While teaching is my second career—I like to call myself a recovering lawyer—it’s always been my first love. Even back in law school, I taught a few courses. I entered the legal profession to help my clients, but after five years, I realized that it was my teachers who had really made a difference in my life, so I switched professions. I love to help kids become better writers and show them that literature is meaningful, that the classics are valuable to read. I’ve been teaching at St. Paul’s for 14 years and for most of that time Microsoft technology has helped me make literature come alive for my students. Today, I’m using Microsoft Office 365 Education.
I remember the first time I realized that I could use technology to improve learning outcomes. I was teaching poetry to ninth graders and my students weren’t performing as well as expected on the test. So I grouped the students in pairs and challenged them to make a poem come to life by turning it into a movie using Windows Movie Maker. To complete the project successfully, the students had to examine the poem closely to find literary devices, rhyme scheme, rhythm, and scansion. Suddenly, the kids were scoring 10 points higher on the test. It was a revelation: the power of good lesson design combined with technology creates a learning environment that allows students to think deeply and apply their knowledge in new ways, using new tools.
In the next few months, our goal is to introduce Microsoft SharePoint Online in Office 365 to our third and fourth graders. They’ll be reading a book and blogging about it. They’ll be learning how to write respective, insightful comments on their classmates’ blogs. It’s about taking technology and learning a real-life skill—understanding and reflecting on others’ perspectives—that’s going to improve our students’ learning outcomes.
There are a lot of options for technology in the classroom, but for me, Office 365 is the most amazing service around. I don’t have textbooks or papers in my class. I use a pen and a touch-enabled tablet running Windows 8 that I hook up to a projector. I use Lync Online in Office 365 to record my lectures and create exam review videos. Now students who miss school because they are sick, or playing in the state football championships, can access the videos and review the material again and again. No one ever needs to fall behind.
I create OneNote notebooks to share with my students where I file all the resources and notes we need for each unit. We designate a tab to organize collaborative projects. My tenth graders used OneNote as the basis for a project on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. After the kids read the book, I asked them to think about the implications of the count’s actions in today’s world. Essentially, we put the count on trial. I set up a OneNote notebook and created Evidence, Prosecution, and Defense subsections for the kids to upload their legal arguments and opening and closing statements. By using a computing device and great collaborative technology, the students can access and share their work anytime. It’s helping them to think more deeply and apply what they learn to their everyday lives.
The tenth graders also collaborated on a research paper and a media campaign to raise awareness about cleaning up Dog River, which runs through our city. They wanted to create a Facebook page to publicize their campaign, but Facebook is blocked at school. To work around this, the students realized that they could work on the Facebook posts at school and upload them to their OneNote notebooks. Because you can access OneNote from anywhere you have an Internet connection, it was easy for one of the students to copy and paste the content to Facebook from home.
What impresses me the most about Office 365 and its online storage capabilities is the support for the collaborative nature of learning outside of the classroom. The kids use OneDrive for Business and Office Web Apps on their phones. They can be on the bus to the school football game and if they get an idea about their essay, they can edit their draft directly from their phones. It’s no longer about doing English class between 7:45 and 8:45. I don’t ever want to hear, “Mrs. Etheredge that’s a great idea, but we can’t do that in five hours a week.” With Office 365, they have all the tools that they need to take the project and run with it. It’s a great way to get students motivated. What more can a teacher want?