Posted by: ketheredge | April 5, 2017

Questions and Play Prompt Discoveries and Innovation

As part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) program, MIEEs can submit to present at a conference, and, if accepted, MIEEs can apply to the travel program that pays for your conference fee, travel, and hotel. Thanks to this program, I had the pleasure of attending the NCCE conference in Portland two weeks ago. There were lots of great moments, but a couple of insights struck a chord with me over the course of the conference.

Questions Prompt Discoveries. It sounds obvious, right? Of course it is, but sometimes in the middle of a session you are reminded of the simple truths that you know deep down. For me, this occurred in Sandi Adams session “What’s Under the Hood at the Microsoft Garage“. Sandi’s session explained how Microsoft has created a facility (or garage) for experimental projects. Microsoft Garages around the world are the official experimental outlet for Microsoft employees and interns. Every experimental project begins with a question. That overarching question guides the team of makers, hackers, and tinkerers who visit the Garage to experiment. From these questions, amazing products have been born. Take, for example, the question: “Is it possible to help color blind individuals with a simple smartphone app?” From this question, a Microsoft team developed the Color Binoculars app. Color Binoculars, “using your camera, replaces difficult color combinations, like red and green, with more easily distinguishable combinations, like pink and green. The app also supports all three major types of color blindness”, helping people pick out flowers, choose a matching outfit, or any other need they have. Within the Garage (or its corresponding Hackathon), Microsoft employees have created some wonderful apps and products with teachers and students in mind. Three of my favorite are:

Learning Tools – Learning Tools began at Microsoft’s Hackathon where a group from the OneNote team asked “How can we make reading and writing better for everyone?” One of the most transformative tools for learning emerged from their question. Learning Tools contains “built-in reading and writing tools that improve learning outcomes for all students.” Check out the site to see it action and the studies that demonstrate the benefits.

Snip – “Why just show when you can show-and-tell?” is the question that the Snip team answered. What they created is a simple program that allows you to take a snip of your screen and narrate it. You can then share it out via email, OneNote, or the web.

Write Ideas – The Microsoft team that worked on this app started with the question – Can we help students avoid the scary blank page when starting writing assignments? The team has created an app that helps students with their pre-writing for reports, short stories, and essays. Students can speak, type, or even draw their ideas. Everything the students create in the app can then be exported to an email, a OneNote page, or a Word document.


Play Promotes Innovation. I experienced this point first hand when I attended a workshop called “Bristlebot Olympics for Makerspaces.” In this session, we learned how to create a “bristlebot” with the end of a toothbrush, a battery, and a motor. We were then challenged to complete three tasks – sumo wrestling, race, and incline. My bristlebot, however, did not go in a straight line when I created it. Instead, it moved in a perfect circle. With playful exploration, I, therefore, tried various methods to get the bot to move forward rather than in circles. Although I didn’t win any of the challenges, I found a way to get the bot to move down the table, which allowed it to complete two of the three tasks. Without the challenges, I would have likely been content with my bot moving in circles; it was, after all, pretty cool in and of itself. As a result of the play, however, I was able to see not only how I could make it move in circles, but move in other ways as well.

My experience in the workshop was reinforced when I attend Thursday’s keynote. Kevin Carroll inspired me to celebrate play. Here are some nuggets of wisdom I noted during his talk:

  • He described the mom of one of his friends as “the CEO – chief encouragement officer – of his dreams”. How I LOVE this! May I always be the CEO of my children’s and students’ dreams.
  • “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” The only way dreams become a reality is to take action.
  • He described himself as the “instigator of inspiration” and “a serial manifester of ideas.” May we always think about opportunities and see the possibilities around us.
  • “Students need to know why you care; it can’t be transactional; it has to be transformational.” I have seen this time and time again. When my students know I care, they give more, study more, achieve more.
  • “My actions may seem small, but collectively they are great.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes – “Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh
  • “Storytelling and our narratives are powerful. It is how we connect with others. There is another you that needs to know it’s possible.” I am guilty of thinking that no one could benefit from my story.
  • “If we all had an attitude of always being in beta – always improving – we would always be moving forward.” Amen!
  • He said he believes there are “two great days in life – the day you were born and the day you discover why. What a wonderful concept to share with my children and my students. I have said for quite a while that my main goal in teaching is to help students find their purpose, their passion.       (Learning content is a nice by-product.)
  • “You have to stay motivated because no dream is microwaveable.” This is definitely a message students need to hear. It is tempting to hope that with little effort our dreams can become a reality, and, so, if they don’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be. In reality, however, we have to work for our dreams every day and never give up on them.
  • “Doubt is success testing you.” WOW!       What a statement. I’m making this into a poster for sure!

It is always great to attend a conference that inspires you. I appreciate the travel program Microsoft offers its MIEEs so that I can continue to grow and be inspired. Thanks Microsoft for always supporting educators!




Posted by: ketheredge | January 5, 2015

OneNote & Count of Monte Cristo Mock Trial

A few years ago, Microsoft captured my use of OneNote for our Count of Monte Cristo mock trial project with a short video. The video doesn’t seem to be live anymore, and a few people have asked for it, so I am embedding it here.

What is better than visiting Barcelona?  Visiting Barcelona with 250 like-minded educators from around the world.

Three weeks ago, I attended Microsoft’s Global Forum in Barcelona.  The forum was four days of sharing and collaborating with educators, students, school & education leaders, and government officials from 97 countries.  With three tracks for forum judges, innovative schools, and expert educators, the Barcelona Forum Convention Center bustled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or later) all four days.

I was part of the Expert Educator track.  Within the educator track, we attended keynotes and panel discussions, learned about Windows 8 and the Surface RT we were given for our school, and explored Windows 8 apps for education.  Additionally, we were tasked with two major events – individual presentations and the Learn-a-thon.

My booth showing off my students' work.

My booth showing off my students’ work.


Individual presentations:  As part of our application to program, educators submitted a learning activity demonstrating innovative lesson design.  At the forum, similar to a science fair, every teacher presented their learning activity to two judges, educators, and school leaders.  The lesson I shared was my students’ media campaigns.  Last year, after researching environmental issues of their choice, students wrote an informative essay and created an online magazine of the class’ essays.  I then challenged the students to make a difference by creating a media campaign for the class’ most pressing environmental concern.  Students then worked collaboratively with peers, media experts, and community organizations to build awareness on their chosen issues.  (If you are interested in the planning details of the project, you can read about it on the Partners in Learning Network.)  To see the students’ phenomenal work product, check out their wiki and their Facebook page.

I am always proud to share my students work, and it was rewarding to hear judges and educators alike praise the students’ efforts.


When we weren’t presenting, we could tour around the room and see the world – from Albania to Vietnam, educators shared their students’ work.  (To see all the countries represented, check out this cool infographic.)  During my tours, I loved meeting educators I had met virtually before the forum as well as new colleagues from around the world.  Kurt Söser, Angels Soriano, and I bonded over our love of OneNote even before the forum began, and it was wonderful to meet them in person and learn about their projects.  After Andrey Sidenko visited my booth, he and I had a wonderful conversation about world literature.  It was exciting to see every age range and every discipline represented in the projects.  Kindergartners collaborating on problems, middle schoolers helping their teachers learn how to use Office 365, high school students educating their community on the risk factors for diabetes – the projects were all collaborative, dynamic, and innovative.  I learned from every teacher I spoke to; I only wish I could have met them all!  The wonderful thing is that I can reach out to any of them through the PiL network whenever I want, so with a little effort I can meet them all virtually. 🙂


Team 37 working together and taking risks.

Team 37 working together and taking risks.

The Learn-a-thon:  The Learn-a-thon was a 24-hour collaborative activity that allowed us to practice the 21st century skills we strive to instill in our students.  Every educator was assigned a team, and I was thrilled to see on the first morning that we were placed in our groups to start bonding.  Our first bonding activity was “the spaghetti” challenge.  We were given spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmellow and told to create (in 18 minutes) the tallest structure we could that would hold the marshmellow on top.  While we didn’t succeed in building a structure that worked – mainly because I encouraged us to be too ambitious and add a second layer to our structure (oops) – it was an awesome bonding experience.  We listened to each other, and each of us quickly stepped into a role to complete our task.

Our experience on the first day carried over to the third day of the forum when we began the Learn-a-thon.  Each group was tasked with creating a learning activity that focused on one of Unesco’s Millennium Developmental Goals:  Sustainability, Poverty, or Gender Equality.  Assigned the sustainability goal, we immediately began brainstorming.  The collaborative process was awesome, but not without its challenges.  The main challenge was that one of our teammates spoke very little English.  While she wanted to contribute and collaborate, she could not understand what we were saying.  While I have a Spanish degree, I was completely out of practice, and I knew my translation attempts would only slow us down.  Thankfully, I installed the Bing Translator App on my computer and phone.  It was a lifesaver!  With Bing Translator, Elizabeth was part of the group and made wonderful contributions to our end product.

We knew we wanted students to uncover the sustainability issues in their communities.  With our essential question – What Sustains Us and Our World? – as our focus, we began crafting our lesson.  As we progressed in our planning, we created a OneDrive folder to house all of our work product and used OneNote to begin our collaboration.  With the same interdependence that we learned is key to teach our students, we shared our strengths with the group and volunteered to create different aspects of the lesson.

Elizabeth and I at the end of day of collaborating with Bing Translator.

Elizabeth and I at the end of day of collaborating with Bing Translator.

In short, we created a collaborative unit in which each class is tasked with discovering which sustainability target areas are a concern in their community.  Once they know the areas of concern, they are to conduct more research to learn specificially how their community is connected to the area(s) of concern and how they can impact their community regarding the area(s) of concern.  They are tasked with not only sharing their findings with the other classes around the world, but with creating a community service project.  Each school has a designated month to share their findings.  Students will blog, tweet, and create videos to help inform others, and then we will video conference with the other classes so they can ask questions about our findings and plans.  The project currently involves eight countries (and we are still learning of other schools who want to join)!  If you want to learn more about the learning activity (or join us in our adventure), check it out on the PiL network.

When we were finished crafting the project, we presented the learning activity to a panel of judges.  Boy, was I nervous!  More nervous than I was for my own project because I didn’t want to fail my team.  As soon as we started presenting, however, all the nerves disappeared, and the passion for our project shined through all of us.  Sharing our vision and what we accomplished as a team of four in less than 24 hours was a proud moment for sure.

My amazing team with the President of Catalonia and Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President of Education.

My amazing team with the President of Catalonia and Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President of Education.

With the Learn-a-thon presentation complete, all that remained was to celebrate 4 days of amazing learning.  On the last evening of the forum, Microsoft honored the attendees with a gala dinner and awards ceremony.  The President of Catalonia spoke at the awards ceremony and opened it by noting that “the night looked like the United Nations of Education.”  I couldn’t agree more!  Looking around the theater at over 1,100 educators, education leaders, and policy makers from around the world was a humbling experience.  Even more humbling was the moment they announced the winning team for the Sustainability Learn-a-thon group – TEAM 37!  Even three weeks later thinking about that moment brings a little tear of joy.  Our team’s collaborative efforts prevailed in the most amazing way.

Win or lose, the experience with my Learn-a-thon team affirmed my main goal for Microsoft’s Global Forum – collaboration.  As I embarked on my journey to Barcelona, I wrote about my excitement to attend the forum and Barcelona’s connection to my former Olympic dreams.  While I was aware of the competitive part of the forum, I purposely closed my post by saying, “I’ll collaborate rather than compete and love every minute of it!”  I certainly did LOVE every minute of it!

My amazing teammate and new friend, Jessie Mann.

My amazing teammate and new friend, Jessie Mann.

The wonderful part of all of this is that the collaboration will continue.  My team has already started implementing the project we designed.  (You can follow our students’ twitter feed or read about their research and projects on the project blog.)  In addition to the work with my team, the #MicrosoftGF, #experteducator, and #MSFTEDU communities on twitter allow me to reach out to any of the forum attendees at any time!  I know that the connections I made at the Global Forum will only grow stronger over time.

Thank you, Microsoft, for an absolutely amazing experience!



Posted by: ketheredge | March 6, 2014

Barcelona Bound: Microsoft’s Global Forum

Today I leave for Barcelona to attend Microsoft’s Global Forum. From over 23,000 applicants Microsoft selected a little over 250 educators to attend – an Olympics for teachers, if you will. While I am certain everyone attending the forum is thrilled, I have to admit I am teary as I sit on the plane.

You see, over twenty years ago I first dreamed of visiting Barcelona for the 1992 summer Olympics. My dream wasn’t simply to watch. My dream was to compete in the 400 m hurdles. Many were shocked to hear my dream. A 92 pound twig didn’t seem to have the proper stock for such a Herculean feat. I was undeterred. For every naysayer I worked harder.

Every hurdle drill, weight lifted, run was for Barcelona. Knowing my dream, my brother purchased me a Barcelona Olympics t-shirt. I frequently wore it for extra motivation, and I continued working and dreaming until my final collegiate race when it was clear the dream wasn’t a reality.

I was sad, of course. To be honest, at the time, I felt like a bit of a loser. Just a bit. I stopped running for a while and moved on to the next adventure – law school. Deep down, however, I knew I wasn’t a loser. No one who dreams big and gives her all can ever lose! They can fail, but that isn’t losing. Losers don’t go after their dreams. As the necklace my mom gave me as a child says, “winners never quit and quitters never win.”

I knew this all so deeply in my heart that I tried training again for Atlanta. In that journey, every so often, I would pull out my Barcelona shirt for motivation. Every hard practice, every early morning run, I focused on my Olympic dream. My shins, however, had other ideas. Stress fractures.

Although I still didn’t realize my Olympic dream, the journey led me to a change in careers – from lawyering to coaching and teaching. With the same competitor’s spirit, I poured my heart and soul into my new career.

Similar to my running dreams, I encountered naysayers. Without an education degree, for many, I was just “the lawyer who teaches” – not a real teacher. Again, I was undeterred. Classroom management eluded me at first; I admit. I knew, however, I could improve. For 14 years, I’ve trained every day for a job I absolutely love.

Next week, I’ll get to share that training with others. I’ll collaborate rather than compete and love every minute of it!

I packed my Barcelona shirt. All these years later, no matter how many times I cleaned out closets, I never wanted to let go of the fighting spirit it represents.

(My apologies for typos and the picture size in this post. I wrote the post on my phone in the airport and editing – or adding this warning – was a bit challenging on such a small screen. 😉 )

Posted by: ketheredge | August 15, 2013

The Power of Educators

As the school year begins, I often wonder if we as a community know how powerful educators are.  I know the word power can evoke many thoughts (and I really don’t want to touch on all the ones I don’t mean) – but what I mean is the power of influence in a child’s life.  Educators have the power to tear down or raise up their students.  I have had both types in my life, and both the positive and negative types inspire me in my own teaching style.  One, however, resonates with me daily.

Two summers ago, I went through Kevin Washburn’s Writer’s Stylus program.  (If you haven’t heard about it, I highly recommend the program.)  It is a wonderful instructional writing program that my school uses.  During the five day workshop, we wrote an essay inspired by the This I Believe organization.  Today, I am assigning the same task to my composition students.  As I thought about the assignment, and prepared to share my own I Believe essay with my students, it shocked me to realize that I have never published the essay I wrote two years ago.  Immediately, I said to myself, “Well, you were supposed to scan a picture that went with the post, and you never did…”  Well, who cares?  Today, I feel compelled to post without a picture – so here is the essay:

The Power of Educators

By Kelli Etheredge

I believe teachers can transform their students’ lives.  My belief stems from one amazing educator’s influence on me.

Coach Joseph Brown was the man who trained Olympians, and I wanted to be included on his list of prodigies.  That is all I wanted – a coach who could get me to the Olympics.  Unbeknownst to me, Coach Brown’s skills went well beyond his knowledge of hurdling; he was a poet, a philosopher, and a motivator.  Thankfully, Coach Brown saw I needed more than hurdle drills and sprints.  He knew I needed hope.

When we met, I was fourteen.  With divorced parents and an alcoholic father, overachieving was my mantra.  I desperately wanted my dad’s attention, and I passionately believed my perfection would free my mom from worry.  Life was hard.  It hurt.  And no one knew, except Coach Brown.  One practice I showed up and everything began as usual; twenty minutes into a two hour practice, however, Coach said, “we are done.”  I was shocked and disappointed.  I didn’t want to go home; I wanted to run.  But when I packed my bag, he said, “Oh, no, I didn’t mean we are leaving; I just meant we are not running any more today.  We need to talk.”  “About what?” I asked.  “About your feelings,” he replied, “About your life.”  I shook my head and pursed my lips, “Nope, we don’t need to talk about that,” I countered, “We just need to run.”  As I put my spikes back on, I heard him reciting a poem.  I can’t remember the words now, but I do remember the emotion behind it – sadness, pain, fear, and then, oddly enough, hope.  Frustrated, I raised my hands – “What do you want from me?” I cried.  “I want you to write,” he said, “express the feelings you are holding down; share the pain so you can move on to the hope.”  I started writing that day.  Coach Brown gave me a voice when no one else was listening.

From then on, practice became reflective as well as instructive.  Coach Brown was a wonderful story teller.  He lived a tragic life: his dad died when he was four; his mom died when he was eighteen; his Olympic dream was stolen when an eighteen wheeler crashed into his car, leaving him comatose for months and convalescing for a year.  Yet, he was the most peaceful person I ever met.  It made no sense.  Honestly, it angered me.  “Doesn’t it make you mad?” I vented, “Aren’t you furious that you missed the Olympics? It’s not fair!” I screamed.  “But, Kelli,” he calmly replied, “you don’t understand.  Fair is irrelevant.  I see it differently.  If I had gone to the Olympics, I would have never met you.”

He always found the words to help me understand.  At one meet, as I walked up to the heat sheet board, another hurdler groaned, “Uughh, that Kelli Taylor will be in the lane beside me!”  “Please,” her coach quipped, “don’t worry about her; she is just a skinny little white girl.”  I never saw my lane number; I turned on my heel and ran back, crying.  When I recounted what I heard, he asked, “Well, are you a skinny little white girl?”  Stomping my foot, I replied, “Well, yes, sir, I am… but you know what he meant… he is saying I’m a nothing!”  “Are you a nothing?” he probed.  My answer took too long.  “You are if you believe it,” he continued, “Are you going to let them define you?  Or are you going to show them what a skinny little white girl can do?”  I heard him loud and clear – no one can diminish you without your choosing; nothing can stop you if you believe.  I ran the race and won.  I conquered the hurdle of doubt.

Coach Brown passed away thirteen years ago, but he is still with me.  I sense his peace when I am afraid; I hear his encouragement when I doubt; I feel him push me to new heights when I think I can’t go further.

I never became an Olympic hurdler, but Coach Brown changed my life.  Coach’s influence began because of my Olympic dream, but his hope transformed me.  Twenty-seven years later, Coach Brown’s legacy perseveres every time I pass his torch of hope to my students.

Posted by: ketheredge | August 7, 2013

Best Kept Secret Series: Windows Live MovieMaker

Well, the busyness of life and school took over and I didn’t’ fulfill my goal of blogging once a week.  Time is slowing down a bit, however, and, therefore, I will begin a new my goal of sharing one of Microsoft’s free resources once a week.  So, let’s begin again…

Windows Live MovieMaker is a Microsoft’s free movie editing software.  Almost everyone I know has heard of MovieMaker so featuring it in the Best Kept Secret series may seem silly, but I have good reason.  The program has evolved greatly since its beginnings – MovieMaker 2.6  – and many of its newest features are unknown.  For example, MovieMaker:

  •  Creates transitions and effects automatically with AutoMovie themes
  • Captures Webcam video
  • Allows you to narrate your movie right from the Home Ribbon
  • Helps you find copyright free music online to use in your movie


  • Allows you to quickly share      your final product via SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr


  • Adds animations and  visual effects as well as mixes audio      with a touch of a button


Cool, right?  In short, the most recent version of Windows Live MovieMaker allows you and your students to create high quality video simply and quickly.

Need some basic directions for using MovieMaker?

In my literature class, students have used MovieMaker in numerous ways.  Students created informative videos for their media campaigns; performed monologues from The Merchant of Venice; turned poems into movies; created music videos of their parodies – just to name a few.  How have your students used MovieMaker in your classroom?

Posted by: ketheredge | May 6, 2013


If you follow #edchat on twitter, you more than likely know about the Bammy Awards.  For those who do not know, the Bammy Awards, organized by BAM Radio Network, are an effort to celebrate all that is good in American education.  I am honored to be nominated for a Bammy Award for Secondary Teacher of Year.  A few weeks ago, because of my Bammy nomination, two students from the Indianapolis area asked to interview me.  It was a privilege speaking with them about my education, how technology impacts learning, and why I am so passionate about the work I do with my students and my school.  Thank you Breanna and Kathleen for interviewing me.  Although the video was distorted at times, the audio is just fine.  Check it out:

What do you think about the questions Breanna and Kathleen asked?  Do you drive the technology used in your classroom, or do the students?  What motivates you to go to work every day?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: ketheredge | April 13, 2013


As promised, I am going to share a Microsoft free tool called AutoCollage as my second installment in my Best Kept Secret in Education series.  AutoCollage is just what it sounds like; it is a program that creates a collage for you  in a matter of minutes.

San Diego Pictures_AutoCollage_31_ImagesWhile creating a collage may not sound ground-breaking for education, because AutoCollage creates the collage so easily and quickly, teachers and students are able to use a simple technology to create a product that can be utilized in various ways.  Educators and learners could use AutoCollage in the same way they traditionally utilize poster board collage projects and/or arts and crafts collage projects, but in a fraction of the time.  Teachers could use AutoCollage after field trips, class projects, and for end of the year memory books.  Students could create collages for vocabulary, character studies, historical studies, literature theme studies, and any other image collection project.

The key is that because they are able to create the collage so easily, students can move beyond the simple creation of the image and move on to deeper exploration of the collage’s subject.  Take the San Diego collage to the left, for example.  In a study about different parts of the country, learners may be asked to create a collage of interesting sites to visit in a specific city.  Learners could collect the images and create a collage like the San Diego collage.  The assignment could stop here, or the learning could go deeper by requiring students to annotate the collage to explain the significance of each image.  Annotation could come in various forms.  Some I will discuss in future posts, but one option is ThingLink.  ThingLink allows you to upload an image and annotate it.  View the same collage annotated with ThingLink.  Here you can see I was able to annotate the picture and offer more information about the interesting places to visit in San Diego.  Educators could use the same concept to create an annotated collage for students to explore.

The following video is a great overview of different ways you could use AutoCollage:

As I mentioned earlier, some of the methods Sean references in this video, I will highlight in future posts, but hopefully this provides you with some ideas on how to utilize the tool.

Intrigued?  Then, download the program and start experimenting with how you can use it.  To download AutoCollage for free, you first have to become a member of the Partners in Learning Network.  Once you are at the site, click on “Join” and become a member.  When you are a member, go to the Resources tab and choose Free Tools.  On the main Free Tools page, you will find AutoCollage.  Select the AutoCollage page and download the program for free.  You can even find more tutorials and ideas on how to use AutoCollage on this page.

If you want to use it with your students, I have created directions you can share with them:

For visual learners, here is a great tutorial on the program:

And there you have it – one of the Best Kept Secrets in Education:  Microsoft’s AutoCollage.  How have you used AutoCollage in your classroom, or what ideas have been sparked by seeing what AutoCollage can do?

Posted by: ketheredge | April 5, 2013

The Best Kept Secret in Education – Microsoft

I have been contemplating this post, and the following series, for a while now.  In fact, every time I leave a conference or an Innovative Educators Workshop, I remind myself of this series idea.  Well, today I will finally begin, and my goal is to share something new every week.

I know someone is immediately questioning the title, “Hey, Kelli, what’s the secret?  Microsoft isn’t a secret.”  While we all know the company, I find time and time again that many educators are unaware of the amazing resources that Microsoft provides to educators.  I also find that they have no idea that all of these resources are FREE!

For example, did you know that Microsoft has an international website dedicated to educators, over 30 free programs for students and teachers to use in their classroom, free workshops, and an annual global forum that celebrates educators and schools from around the globe?  Surprising, right?

My goal with this series will be to share these amazing resources with you.  I will also explore how you can use these resources in your classroom with your students.

Today’s focus is Microsoft’s international website – Partners in Learning Network – that provides educators with tutorials, lesson plans, discussion boards, and online courses.  Teachers can connect with educators from around the world and learn from each other.  They can also watch videos demonstrating the use of various Microsoft tools as well as search for lesson plans that incorporate 21st century skills and technology into the core content.  They even offer online courses – Teaching with Technology – that are tailored to your skills!  And all of it is for free!  Amazing!

Anthony Salcito, Vice-President for Worldwide Education at Microsoft, has created a tutorial for the website.  Check it out:

Want to join?  It is easy.  Just click here and create a profile on the website.  You can begin exploring the amazing resources on the site in minutes.  And if the resources aren’t enough of an incentive, know that if you register on the site, you have a chance to attend Microsoft’s Global Forum!  You can gain a second opportunity to attend the Global Forum by also completing the Expert Educator application for your chance to be selected into the Expert Educator program.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.  I will be sharing one of my favorite tools that you can only get free if you are a member of the Partners in Learning Network – AutoCollage.

Posted by: ketheredge | February 28, 2012

Abandoning the Plan and Getting Out of the Way of Learning

“Mommy, can I help?”  I took a deep breath when I heard those words.  I just wanted to be finished, and I hadn’t even started….  I was painting my daughter’s room.  I had promised to do it a long time ago; my mom had promised my daughter that she would visit over Mardi Gras break and help me.  Then, in January, my mom died.  I couldn’t avoid it.  I didn’t want my daughter to feel sad because grandmommy wasn’t here.  I didn’t want to feel sad because she wasn’t here.  I just wanted to get it done.

I contemplated how to answer – how could I tell her I just needed to finish, I just needed to finish quickly and if no one was in my way I would be able to finish by dinner?  I took another deep breath, and began to answer, but I saw her face.  She could tell what I was thinking, and I could see the beginning of disappointment.   I stopped myself from speaking. IMG_1002 I wondered, “What would mom have done?”  Mom would have let her help.  It would have been something they could do together; it would have been fun.  Could I make this fun?  Now?  With the loss of mom so fresh?

“Okay.  Sure; let’s see how we can get you to help.”  I then set about to figure out how to work efficiently.  “I want to use the roller,” she quickly offered.  Another sigh… she doesn’t have the strength to use the roller, I thought.  Before I could say anything, my son chimed in, “Ooh!  I want to help too!!”  I couldn’t say no, but how in the world would I make it work?  A job that I thought would take barely a day was now going to take three days and all I wanted was check it off the list of things to do!

“Okay, I said, here is the roller; here is the brush.  Let me show you what you do.”  They both beamed; I showed my daughter first, and then my son, and then we painted.  I did the edges, my son did the space between the edges and the corners, and my daughter did everything on the wall she could reach.

Did we finish by the end of the day?  No.  Did we have fun?  Yes.  Did my kids learn a lot about painting a room and about the value of hard work?  Yes.

As we navigated through the day, I saw the gift in the day.  We were happy, together, fulfilled.

Our time together reminded me that the only way to truly learn is through experience.  My daughter learned that you have to put a lot of pressure on the roller for the paint to go on the wall smoothly; my son learned that when you dip the brush in the pan, you have to drag it a bit so that you don’t have tons of paint on the end of the brush and have it drip everywhere; we all learned that if you put your hand on a wet wall your hand gets paint all over it; IMG_1005I learned to give up on plans and get out of the way of learning.

As they adapted to each lesson, I began to think about teaching.  How many times in the past have I worried more about the timing of the lesson than the experience of the learning?  How many times have I gotten in the way of learning because I had a to do list to finish?  It hit me – Any time I push through a set agenda that has to be completed, I stifle learning.  I need to find more ways to allow my students to “paint” with me.

What do my students gain when I let them “take over”?  The same things my children gained when I let them paint with me – confidence, knowledge (about themselves and the material), ingenuity, resilience.

Don’t get me wrong; I am pretty adaptive and I have lessons that allow students to stand on their own two feet with my guidance rather than my interference.  Now.  But early in my career, I most certainly was not.  I had a syllabus; I had tests scheduled; and I had material to cover.  I covered the material, and I gave tests, but did the students learn?  Not deeply.  They didn’t get to explore anything at a deeper level.  I don’t teach that way anymore.  I make a plan, yes, but my plan is not focused on coverage; it is focused on content and deep understanding.  I also change the plan when I see students are struggling with reaching the goals that I have set.  I guide learning, allowing students to explore concepts and develop their own understanding of the material.  In the assignments I create, students answer questions with no right answer, rather than simply spitting back to me what they think I want to hear.  IMG_0997(Avoiding the concrete is one of my proudest lesson design moments – similar to my children’s new understanding that there are many methods to painting a room, I strive for my students to understand that often times (at least in literature studies) there are many answers to the questions posed.  It can, however, be frustrating for a 10th grader sometimes to hear from her teacher, “I don’t know… what do you think?” Smile)

I have changed a lot in the last 12 years as a teacher, and my painting experience with my children reminded me of that.  The experience also reminded me that I still have room to grow.

I admit it – I sometimes slip back into focusing on time and the pressures of finishing a unit before some forced break – holiday, quarter end, etc.  My rigidness can sometimes rear it’s ugly head, and I must vigilantly put it in its place.

We finished the room.  In reality, they lost interest on the second day, which sped up the process.  Smile  The fact that it took a bit longer, however, is NOT my focus.  My focus IS the look on my daughter’s face every time she walks into her room since WE painted it – pure joy.

What do you think?  How do you get out of the way of learning in your classroom?

Older Posts »