For the good of her students, this traditionalist teacher meets the digital age head-on

Innovative educator Summer Winrotte stands untethered in her

You’d never know it by seeing how effortlessly she projects polynomials from a tablet to the monitor at the front of her classroom, but Summer Winrotte began teaching as an avowed traditionalist. “I can remember my first year of teaching, saying that I would never be paperless,” she says. As a math teacher, her college course work had to be done with longhand computations, not even a calculator. Summer didn’t see the value of using technology in the classroom.

Today she works to create a more equitable learning environment through paperless technologies by serving as Tecumseh Junior High School’s digital instructional coach. Tecumseh, located in Lafayette, Indiana, is a 1:1 school, which means every student gets their own Surface 3 to use at school and at home throughout the year.

Summer’s conversion from teaching traditionalist to tech evangelist began with an emotional conviction. “In order for our students to be successful in the 21st-century workforce, they need to be capable and confident working in a digital age,” she says. “If we said to students, ‘that’s ok, you can use paper every day,’ we’re really not setting them up equally to succeed with the skills they need in the future.”

How could she best honor her commitment to her students? How could she best prepare them for success, both in the classroom and in their professional futures? Summer made a decision – she wouldn’t let her own skepticism of technology’s place in the classroom limit her kids’ potential.

A group of female students take note on the Microsoft Surface devices.

To her pleasant surprise, the tools she ultimately decided to use – the powerful combination of the Surface 3 tablet and OneNote – weren’t as unfamiliar as she’d suspected. They were the unbounded digital equivalents of the familiar, like handwriting, notebooks and other traditional pieces of the classroom setting.

OneNote’s custom classroom management solutions coupled with the Surface 3’s digital inking capabilities, the true pen-to-paper experience that research has shown improves learning outcomes, allows students to work with their device in a natural, intuitive way.

Going paperless has also helped Summer’s students stay better organized. “For my math students, they have all this math stuff stored in one digital notebook, and it’s always there, so they aren’t losing papers,” she says. “I think that’s huge when you’re talking about twelve and 13-year-olds. There’s not that excuse of, ‘oh, I don’t know where that paper went.’ Everything is there and it is very easy to find.”

Stylus in hand, a student writes an equation on his Windows Surface device.

She adds that OneNote has helped her to be more efficient too. Time that she used to lose in the copy room, running down fresh paper supplies and replacing ink cartridges is now spent engaging her students’ eager young minds.

Summer says the most important OneNote feature, though, is that of enabling students to work on projects whether they’re on or offline. “For some of our students who don’t have WiFi at home, OneNote provides equal footing, equal access,” Summer says. “They can do their work offline, walk back into school the next day, hit that internet access, and it automatically starts syncing.”

For students like Roman, that’s important. “I don’t have internet at my house, and I know plenty of other people who don’t have Internet, so it’s really convenient,” he says. “Normally if you needed to look up stuff and you didn’t have Internet, you basically wouldn’t be able to do it. I think it’s really cool.”

Summer knows that, just like her, some teachers may be intimidated by the prospect of using technology in their classrooms at first. But she also knows how committed teachers are to fostering success in their students, and that preparing those students for a 21st-century workforce means meeting them where they already are, growing up in a connected world.

“A lot of students are digital natives, but they’re digital natives in the aspect of play,” Summer says. “Part of the question around technology and education is how do we transfer their digital knowledge and skill from from play to workplace?”

Together with her community of fellow educators, Summer is sending an important message to every one of her students. Regardless of where these students begin or end their day, they’re being given access to the tools that will help them succeed in the digital age. “We are going to do everything in our power to give you access, equal access, to this digital tool,” she says. “We are trying to make an equal playing field.”

Two students collaborate on solving a problem on a Windows Surface device.

Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources.