This past week I had the honor of judging and attending the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in our beautiful capital of Washington, D.C. I had many expectations that this Forum would be similar to the U.S. Forum in most ways, only on a larger scale. I was aware that there would be over 60 countries represented within attendee and judging community, but what I was not aware of was the effect this Global Forum would have on me. For starters, I don't even own a passport. That tells you how far I have ever traveled. Enjoying the conversation of so many people from so many countries with so many experiences, made me realize how very much a stranger I was in my own country these last few days. There are some personal take-aways that need not be shared on my blog, but suffice to say that I need to get out more. Many would think these revelations left me feeling poorly about myself, but truth be told, I feel stronger than ever. There are so many people to thank that I'd be afraid to miss a name or two. I'm sure I have already shared my thanks with all of them in person, although not nearly as eloquently as I have in my head.
The absolute best part of the experience was just being in the presence of the most amazing teachers from around the world and watching as they received the recognition they deserved, not only during the Awards Dinner, but throughout the week.
As for the teachers who were there to compete, one thing you can be absolutely sure about: If you submitted a project, you had AT LEAST three judges individually studying your work for HOURS and often DAYS (even before we arrived in D.C.). The judges were kept extremely busy from Day 1. We had full day workshops where we studied our tasks, rubrics and engaged in in-depth discussions in order to help ensure we were speaking a common "language" when it came down to our interpretation of the judging rubric. We left no words behind. The discussions were fascinating and in one instance, while I was at a table with judges from Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland and UK, it was a challenge for me to decipher the conversation as it moved along quickly (although everyone spoke English). Of course, when I made a comment about being the only one at the table with no accent, I couldn't help but notice the conspiratory looks that shot around the table as if they dare not tell me the truth that yes indeed, I had quite the accent, as well.
There were keynotes and activities outside of the judging activities and although there were a few moments when we could partake, I never lost sight of the reason I was there and for the most part I spent my time reviewing the projects in order to become as familiar with them as possible prior to the interviews. (Each judge would interview each teacher for approximately 15-20 minutes.) I know most other judges who were doing the same. Everyone took the process extremely seriously. Unfortunately, that meant missing the Keynotes by Will Richardson and Michael Salcito. The judging interviews proved to be the richest experience as that is where the human-element of the projects emerged. This is where I got to learn a little about what brought these teachers to the Forum and what motivates them to teach in sometimes very challenging circumstances. For an inspiring teacher's point of view, I encourage you to read Cheryl Arnett's post over here.
Johnny Kissko says it beautifully in his post on Reflections from Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Global Forum over here:
"Successful teaching is a matter of aligning yourself to share harmony with the needs of your students and your school’s values. Sustaining growth requires that you distance yourself from those in opposition of this philosophy while surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals."
At the Awards Dinner, Andrew Ko briefly interviewed me and asked, "What will you bring back to your teachers from this Forum?" Unfortunately I don't think I did justice to my answer because I got a bit emotional and just didn't answer the question fully. If Andrew is reading this, I hope he reads just a little further because this is what I MEANT to say:
The educator in me can't end this blogpost without teaching you something and perhaps giving you the opportunity to understand a little bit about what I have learned about what constitutes a truly innovative lesson or project.
As part of Microsoft’s commitment to education transformation, its Partners in Learning Program initiated the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project to contribute information and policy insights on where and how effective education transformation is taking place around the world. You can read about the key findings here.
Based on the ITL research, the Microsoft Partners in Learning Program in creating the application, criteria and judging rubrics, looks for certain factors in what would constitute an innovative lesson or project.
Think about the most awesome project you can remember. Now ask yourself these questions:
- Is the learning activity long-term, and does it call on students to plan their OWN work and assess their own work over time? Providing students a rubric is crucial and allowing them to modify their work based on the rubric is key. (A lot of people are against rubrics. I used them sometimes and wavered on my feelings about them, but now I'm convinced that not telling students what you are looking for, but then giving them a grade on how well they achieved it is simply unfair.)
- Does the use of ICT enable new knowledge-building/collaboration/learning beyond the classroom opportunities that would not have been possible without it? (A book report using PowerPoint is simply "old wine in a new bottle.")
- To what extent does the learning activity require problem-solving based on authentic situations and data from outside the classroom, and are students’ solutions implemented in the real world?
- To what extent does the learning activity stimulate students to build knowledge (through interpretation, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) and is that knowledge cross-disciplinary?
- To what extent does the learning activity require students to collaborate and negotiate with other people to make substantive decisions that shape the content, process or product of their work? (Having students provide feedback to each other is working together; not collaboration.)
Next time you plan a lesson, consider these questions. Remember what's in your heart, and be the innovative teacher you are.
Do YOU have it in you? I think you do. I know many of my readers who should be one of the next Microsoft Partners* in Learning Innovative Teachers. Follow PIL on FaceBook for information and watch for an announcement on the next round of applications. You can also sign up for the Microsoft Education newsletter here. *Microsoft Partners in Learning is a 10-year, almost $500 million initiative aimed at improving teaching and learning through relevant and scalable technologies, services and programs. By working with educators and school leaders, they are delivering a portfolio of professional development tools and resources focusing on improved learning outcomes for all. Thus far, they’ve helped more than 8 million teachers around the world and reached more than 190 million students in 114 countries.