Ready to be inspired? Great teachers and cool ideas at the Innovative Teachers Forum

It's been a busy  week, as I have been fortunate to spend time with teachers who are investing their time in wanting to learn more about relevant and effective ways to apply technology in the classroom.  Last night I left the Microsoft Teaching 2.0: Educator Workshop in Boston (more on that in a future post) and was inspired by their energy and passion for trying new things. 


Now I’m in Mountain View, California for this year’s U.S. Innovative Teachers Forum on the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus today and tomorrow. Thirty-five teachers from 13 states are here to network, learn and collaborate with leading educators from across the country. They will see how other teachers are inventing new ways to engage and teach students, and find out how technology can connect classroom learning to the real world. The forum aims to improve K-12 learning outcomes by building educator communities  that allow them to collaborate with colleagues, access quality content, and challenge them to think beyond the walls of their classroom into the wider world of learning.


The teams of teachers were selected to participate from applications submitted to the U.S. Innovative Teachers Network (ITN). One learning team will be selected to represent the United States at the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Brazil this November. It’s a great professional development opportunity offered through our Partners in Learning program, a global initiative designed to help increase technology access for schools, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy and teacher professional development, and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change.


We’ve got an exciting lineup of speakers, including Linda Darling-Hammond , a Stanford professor who has been named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy over the last decade, and served as the leader of President Obama’s education policy transition team. She’ll be talking about effective classroom practices related to her book Powerful Learning. I can’t wait to learn something new!


The teachers will present their best practices and classroom projects to a panel of judges later today. We’ll be uploading videos over the next day or two, so you can see and hear for yourself the fresh ideas that are enriching the learning experience in classrooms across the country. The ideas are here for the taking and we hope you will share your ideas too. We will announce the winner here on Friday, so keep reading and join the dialogue!


In the meantime, here’s a glance at the teachers and their projects…


Dallas, Texas – St. John’s Episcopal School – Susan Hopper, Jenny Kraemer

Digital Literacy Online is an online class for 6th and 7th grade students. Digital Literacy uses core curriculum projects through learning modules to create a learning environment where students become problem solvers, work independently/interdependently, acquire new technology and communication skills, and produce quality presentations.


Newport News, Virginia – Warwick High School – Ed Lansford, Judy Spalding

In Pyramid Pizzas, students evaluated sources of nutritional information, both in the traditional classroom and in a computer lab, compared nutritional needs using, and planned and prepared balanced meals in a lab setting.


Lakeland, Florida – Lincoln Avenue Academy – Mijana Lockar, Jan May

This applied, project-based unit called “Making A Difference,” integrated various academic subjects and afforded students an opportunity to engage in solving real world issues, including service to elderly citizens of our community. They investigated the issue, planned and executed the course of action, and reflected on implementation results.


Mobile, Alabama – St. Paul’s Episcopal School – Kelli Etheredge, Molly Wagner

Students learn how to read poetry and explore the literary devices contained in poems.  They critically analyze poetry for its meaning, and convert poems into movies that reflect the mood and theme of the poem studied.


Port Angeles, Washington – Stevens Middle School – Pat Durr, Rob Edwards, Dwayne Johnson

In this project, teachers create websites and integrate digital curriculum, and students build digital portfolios. This project provides relevant technology training for teachers and increases student performance through the use of technology.


Ada, Oklahoma – Byng Junior High School – Deborah Cornelison, Linda Lancaster

Students identify a community problem, investigate it using math, science, and technology, and propose and implement solutions. Their project steps included researching literature, contacting experts, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing data, and proposing and implementing solutions. The featured project involved health risks from vitamin D deficiency.


Sun Prairie, Wisconsin – Sun Prairie High School – Janice Mertes, Amanda Jushka

With construction of a new high school, this community designed and set up “the model classroom of the future”.  They have begun to assemble a core group of students to act as technology mentors for the 2009-2010 school year. This summer, Sun Prairie High School is running over 100 hours of staff development for their teachers to transform classrooms and instruction.


Auburn, Alabama – Wrights Mill Road Elementary – Jennifer Dempsey, Sharon Goodman

As a culminating project, teams of 5th grade students select areas of technology in which they have achieved a level of mastery and wish to teach to other students. After developing lesson plans, students collaborate with mentor teachers to further develop and practice their lessons and learn "teacher talk."  Students then present their lessons to 3rd and 4th grade students, parents, and interested community members.


Tremont, Illinois – Tremont Grade School – Susan Bishop, Tracey Harrell

Students created a website that is an example of an international collaborative learning project. They are partnering with schools in Australia, Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States to build a science study of plant growth habitat. Students at each school will study and plan for a garden. Students will research, experiment and collect data, or facts, about gardens near their schools and will share that information with all of the other schools.


Horsham, Pennsylvania – Keith Valley Middle School – Valerie Fasy, Diane Heitzenrater, Stacy Rotchford

Students work collaboratively to design a Rube Goldberg-like machine which completes an everyday task.  Students are challenged to include the six simple machines in a ten-step design and make it “work” using advanced custom animation tools in PowerPoint.


Columbus, Indiana – Columbus East High School – Autumne Streeval, Harriet Armstrong

Students were given a tic tac toe project guide that focused on the Industrial Revolution. The projects were varied to allow for differences in learning styles and to allow students to use various technologies. A strategy of universal design for learning (UDL) was used to create the project. This allowed teachers to think of differentiation as the project was being developed instead of as an afterthought. UDL gives students multiple options to learn content in creative and engaging ways.


Abington, Pennsylvania – Overlook Elementary School – Michael Johnson, Laurence Goldberg

Children learn differently, so schools need to provide an environment that fosters these different paths.  This project shows some examples of using a technology-rich classroom to enable students to learn in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them, to develop both creative and critical thinking skills, and to collaborate and problem solve with their classmates in a stimulating environment.


Clarkston, Georgia – Atlanta Area School for the Deaf – Zoom Bakari, Chantel Watkins

Students discover links between science, people, resources and communities. They identify a local problem caused by climate, analyze climate data about it, and discover what their community is doing about it. Students then create an innovative solution based on the information they gathered, and investigate if others, on a local or global level, could use their innovation to solve the problem. Finally, they share their research and solution, and learn how they can have an impact on their community and the world.


Phoenix, Arizona – Arizona Charter School – Michael Brown, Dean Rice

This project developed a sustainable research-based high school science curriculum, and prepared students for college with realistic simulations of the workplace and environment. Students worked to develop an inexpensive DNA test (microsatellite system) that can be used by Arizona Game & Fish and the Phoenix Zoo to assist in conservation efforts and hopefully make a difference in the effort to save the Chiricahua leopard frog from extinction.


Arleta, California – Bert Corona Charter School – Sally Truong, Jonathan Tiongco

Students collaborate with their peers to demonstrate their understanding of a literary piece through the creation of a CD album.  The project includes CD front and back covers with song titles, a CD blanket of commentaries on song titles and story elements, and song titles and lyrics that reflect the plot, theme, characters, setting, and/or conflict of the selected text. Students read their selected text carefully, undergo the writing process with their responses to the literature, engage in teacher conferences, and finally assemble and present their final project through various multimedia resources.


Sacramento, California – George Washington Carver School of Arts and Sciences – Dana Jenks, Art Dewaard, Barret Drawdy

High school students earn college credit as they do service learning for the environment. Students are introduced to environmental science in class, on field trips and camping trips, and during the planting and upkeep of organic gardens. Students select a service learning project, such as a habitat restoration project, that they can continue through college.


What strikes me about this list of projects is that it is not about the technology, it is about finding creative ways to reach students, it is about integrating curriculum, it is about differentiating the instruction to reach as many learners as possible, it is about engaging students on subjects that are important to them, isn't that what "student-centered learning" is all about?  Great to see. I hope my son has a teacher like one of these at some point in his schooling.


Sure, technology has it's role, it is hard for it not to have a role in our 21st century world, but it acts as a tool in the learning process.  Teacher's have many tools they use, though in my humble opinion, incorporating  technology in the class engages even the most disinterested or jaded student, because it is a fundamental part of their lives.


I look forward to posting more details on these projects over the next two days.  As always, I would love to hear your innovative ideas for how you've used technology in effective and relevant ways in the classroom.






Rob Bayuk

 K-20 Educator Marketing Manager, Microsoft

Follow me on Twitter @TeachTec


Comments (2)

  1. ea says:

    And the benefits to pupils and to society of the tools in the learning process that teachers use are enhanced by good teaching and great teachers -an inspirational site on a great teacher:

    <a href=""><b>What Make Great Teachers</b></a>

  2. ea says:

    And the benefits to pupils and to society of the tools in the learning process that teachers use are enhanced by good teaching and great teachers -an inspirational site on a great teacher:

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