Posted by: ketheredge | April 2, 2014

Microsoft’s Global Forum – #MicrosoftGF – An Amazing Week

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!

 

 

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