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!




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