The excitement was palpable as we entered the conference area. There was an electric atmosphere that accentuated the enthusiasm of every individual and amplified it. I marveled at the apparent effect and afterward, I was in awe of the depth and breadth of learning I experienced.
I am talking about Microsoft’s Global Education Exchange in Paris, France which I had the opportunity to attend this year from April 1st to 5th. I am convinced it should be renamed E3 – Educator Extravaganza Extraordinaire! While it is difficult to put into words, after a week of digesting everything that I learned and experienced, I’d like to attempt to relay to you some of my significant takeaways which I encapsulate in more “Es” – engagement, establishing relationships, and efficacy.
There was no doubt that every person there was engaged in what was going on from the keynote addresses to the educator challenge to the breakout sessions and the learning marketplace. The dynamic atmosphere underscored the deep learning opportunities offered. The conference was multi-faceted in its approach thus offering something for everyone taking into account subject area, level of students taught, teacher expertise, and individual teacher learning style. The array was truly mind-boggling.
Both day’s keynotes were varied in topic, yet all highly engaging and informative. Day one opened with welcomes from Jean-Phillipe Courtois, EVP and President, Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing & Operations followed by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, who shared his views on the future of education, AI and how Microsoft wants to support teachers. A true stand out for me was Brianna Gopaul, a 15-year-old student from Toronto, Canada, who eloquently and confidently expressed how she is learning to solve complex problems through quantum computing. It was truly gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and curiosity of this young lady talking about her passion. Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts Vineeta Garg of India, Michael Fleischhacker of Austria, and Steve Crapnell of Australia gave informative demos in the power of VR/MR, Paint 3D, Microsoft Forms, and Immersive Reader in the classroom. I was rapt listening to each of them as they explained and showed how they were using the various tools to accomplish amazing experiences in the classroom. I was particularly fascinated with Garg’s use of Paint 3D to make learning difficult mathematical concepts visual for her students and the myriad of possibilities for Forms and the Immersive Reader explained by Crapnell and Fleischhacker. Karey Killian, another MIE Expert and Teacher-Librarian from Pennsylvania, passionately shared her student’s enthusiasm for connecting with others around the globe via Skype in the Classroom and Flipgrid. She also relayed how her library suffered a devastating loss of their books due to mold. Her story re-affirmed to me the commitment of Microsoft to support educators not only via technology but in more concrete ways when they subsequently announced that they were at that moment sending books to her school to refill the shelves to replace the books that were lost.
On day two, Stéphane Cloâtre, French MIE Expert and Global Minecraft Mentor, completely wowed me with how his students are using Minecraft: Education Edition to study cultural heritage through architecture. I was mindblown by his use of Minecraft to look at heritage buildings and plan future buildings incorporating SDGs and even print the builds with 3D printers. And finally, Carrie Patterson, Chief Operations Director at WE Charity, revealed how schools have been inspired to action through service learning through WE.org, a focus close to my heart as a #Teach SDGs Ambassador.
The engagement continued through the Breakout Sessions that were offered over the course of the conference. Attendees could dive into learning more about OneNote; Flipgrid; Minecraft; Skype in the classroom; Global learning; Twitter; Coding with Micro:bit, Minecraft or Arcade; Virtual Reality; Service learning with WE schools. The specific sessions I participated in packed with valuable learning and discussion and lead by extremely knowledgeable, passionate people. The only downfall was not being able to attend them all!
The Learning Marketplace was a treasure trove of amazing people and ideas. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, each educator participant (300 in this case!) came prepared to set up a display and talk about a lesson they do in their classes. The pure array of lesson designs was staggering ranging every age group and subject area. Some encompassed specific tools and approaches while others focused more on learning objectives, regardless they all communicated the unique focus of each educator to support their students in innovative ways.
My favourite part of the week was the Educator Challenge. First and foremost, for the relationships that I was able to develop with amazing people from across the globe. Each educator was put into a group of 5-6 including one MIE Fellow to act as a mentor to the group. We were then given a challenge to collaboratively create a lesson that would immerse students in Paris and would be judged in four major categories – inclusivity, creativity, collaboration, and student voice. Then they sent all of us out on buses and we hit the streets of Paris. We’d known each other for all of 20 minutes max and many had significant language barriers to overcome. This is where the real fun began. The bus tour of Paris was not only an icebreaker but part of the challenge as we had a Fliphunt to complete! Fliphunts are a fun activity similar to a scavenger hunt where you complete tasks, collect pictures and videos, then upload them to a Flipgrid. It offered lots of fun for our team and provided a great base to get to know each other.
The tour also served as first-hand idea collection in preparation for creating our collaborative lesson. Upon return to the conference centre, our team went straight to work putting together our ideas and trying to make them into a unified whole. The Microsoft Translator app was absolutely amazing in assisting us in communicating since not everyone in the group was fluent in English. I have to say I felt like I was in a Star Trek episode as we used this amazing tool. I was in awe of the speed of translation and its accuracy. We continued working on our challenge lesson the next morning and things got pretty tense in trying to bring everything together by the time deadline. That too taught me a lot. Living through a stressful experience brings you closer together – a bit like a group catharsis. Our team rose to the test and successfully completed uploading everything with 30 seconds to spare! Hard work pays off because my team also won first-runner up in the inclusivity category.
The challenge really reminded me to look at the lessons and activities that I design for my student through the eyes of my students. This week and especially during this challenge, I became the student experiencing some of the stress and anxiety that surrounds working with people you may not know very well in an unfamiliar environment. We had a lot of fun, but it also made me cognizant of how students may feel in similar working circumstances when they might not have the confidence, maturity, and expertise to deal with the situation.
In addition to building strong relationships with my challenge team, I built great relationships with my Canadian team.
And I was thrilled to solidify relationships with educators I have known and admired via social media by meeting face to face. I was able to connect with so many people, this collage serves as only a small selection.
The big lesson learned is that it is all about relationships. Relationships build a better you and a learning network of passionate people who teach you, support you, and cheer for you is a game changer.
Efficacy: the power to produce an effect.
John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning for Teachers, admonishes “Know thy impact.” In describing a key premise of his findings, Hattie asserts that a teacher’s role is critical and it is their specific mind frame that most greatly affects a student’s learning. That mind frame incorporates a myriad of beliefs including the teacher seeing themselves as an evaluator, as one who seeks feedback, involved in dialogue more than monologue, as someone who enjoys challenges, welcomes error, has high expectations for all, is passionate in promoting the language of learning, and finally as someone who sees themselves as a change agent.
The beauty of E2 and other conferences like it and why these sorts of learning opportunities are important as we look at the Class of 2030, is how their design and activities support and aid in helping an educator flourish in these mind frames. The focus throughout was on improving and seeking feedback to accomplish that end; collaborating and communicating in a learning dialogue; trying new things, failing and trying again. The conference exemplified the passionate promotion of the language of learning and challenged everyone there to be a change maker. These are the goals to strive for in order to give the class of now, 2030, and beyond what they need to succeed.
For me, it was a deeply gratifying experience to be involved and to come a few steps closer to being the kind of teacher that Hattie describes.
For more information on becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and earning an opportunity to attend a future E2: Education Exchange, visit the Microsoft Educator’s Community.