‘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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