Tuesday, 12 April 2016

'Learnings and Memories from the E2 Educator Exchange- Hack the Classroom, in Budapest, Hungary' by Tracy Heath, a MIEExpert from South Africa

This is a report back on the Microsoft Educator Exchange E2 event in Budapest from one of our South African MIEExperts Tracy Heath. Tracy is a teacher at Brescia House in Johannesburg
"Being selected to go to Budapest was like waking up in a dream and living it! The most exciting memory for me is how excited all the teachers were about what they do. Teaching for these teachers is a passion and the passion for their kids was infectious and inspiring! Everyone was thrilled to be included in the Educator Exchange.

So why “Hack the Classroom”? A hack is simply a solution to a modern day problem. We as educators are constantly trying to grab the attention and imagination of our learners and in today’s digital world we are trying to find ways to deliver core ideas in new and exciting ways. We are “hacking the classroom” to find solutions to give our kids the best education possible with the resources available. Sharing our ideas is the best way to do this. The internet is a mine field of ideas and information that one could easily get lost in the search for useful lesson ideas. Using lesson plans from certified Microsoft Expert Educators is a great way to venture into the digital world. Lesson plans from all the delegates can be found at: https://education.microsoft.com/findalesson

We always think that first world countries have it all. It was so interesting to meet teachers with similar problems to our own Internet connectivity is a big problem in many countries, even in Europe and the United States, there are communities that have interrupted or intermittent connections. Using clever ideas many teachers are able to circumvent these issues and come up with real world answers. Preparation is the key to any lesson.  I found, the large amount of collaborative learning being used, not only to teach students but also to assess learning very interesting. One teacher from Switzerland shared how he had 10 learners per device in his classroom and with careful planning was able to allow everyone, singly or in groups, time with the device on a daily basis.  Internet safety was a concern voiced by many teachers. The key to this issue was definitely being well-prepared, guiding the learning and being active around the classroom.  Teachers stressed the need for vigilance and pointing learners to safe websites.
Two areas of particular interest to me was the use of Minecraft and OneNote in the classroom. Minecraft is being used for a huge range of learning from problem solving to building replicas of real word structures e.g. water cycles and pyramids. The interesting thing was that many of the teachers only know the basics of these applications and are allowing the “learner experts” to guide the learning process in the classroom. Many teachers are turning to One Note as a digital collaborative tool for learning and sharing. The instant use of the tool, the ability to use it on and off-line and not having to remember where the information was stored make it an instant hit. 

The use of digital quizzes and online assessment linked through One Note and the Office suite is a way on which teachers can definitely work smarter and not harder. “Inking” was a new digital term for me. The use of digital ink via the use of digital pens seems to be taking the world by storm. Many of our learners still prefer to see things in their own handwriting. The use of inking on a Microsoft Surface was demonstrated. I asked Anthony Salcito, Microsoft in Education World Wide Vice President, when the Surface would get to South Africa and he said that Microsoft is not planning to bring the Surface, a high end and expensive device, to South Africa. Luckily for us he also said that Microsoft has recognised the need for such a versatile device and is working with Dell and other companies on pens that can be used on any touch surface when using Microsoft applications. For teachers marking digital work becomes much easier when it is instant and visible. The further possibilities are endless.
The one thing that was clear to me is how important it is to share and keep learning from others educators. Global education is here to stay and the sooner we, as teachers, get into the digital mode of teaching, the quicker we will find “classroom hacks” to suit our kids and grab our learner’s attention.

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