The Microsoft Innovation Educator (MIE) Expert program connects high-potential teachers across Australia – and from around the world – to share their vision and expertise in applying technology to the classroom. In the first of our MIE Expert profiles, we talk to Laura Bain of Springfield Anglican College about how she’s turned ICT into a vehicle for student creativity – and gotten parents sold on digital learning in the process.
Tell us a bit about your background, and where you feel technology can help students most.
I’ve been a primary school teacher for more than 10 years, mostly in Australia though I spent some time teaching in the UK as well. During that time, I’ve always advocated the role of technology in the classroom: I find that digital allows not only students but also teachers like myself to realise their full creative potential, in a way that’s incredibly engaging and (dare I say it?) fun.
2017 was my first year as the e-learning co-ordinator of Springfield Anglican College’s primary campus. That meant giving up a dedicated class of my own, to focus instead on delivering the recently-introduced Digital and Design Technologies curricula throughout the school. The process has proven incredibly rewarding and there’s huge potential to do more now that we’ve better established what technologies and activities work with our different age levels.
What sort of challenges did you face in this new role?
Simply getting the ball rolling brought with it my first dilemma: how do you fit more activities into the already jam-packed school week? After a bit of consultation with other teachers, I suggested to roll up the various curricula into one, creating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths) units that would meet each curriculum’s requirements while giving students a much more authentic, all-in-one learning experience.
In the past, I’ve also faced concerns, sometimes quite strenuous ones, from parents about how much technology we’re allowing into their children’s learning environment, especially after we rolled out our BYOD policy for students from Years 3 to 12. My way of dealing with them is to ensure that we’re fostering a balanced approach with technology – not just picking up the computer and doing everything with it. And when parents see that their children aren’t just using, but also creating and producing with digital technology, they really start to share and get behind our vision.
How do your students use digital to get creative?
We literally teach them the building blocks of coding and design, then let them pursue their own projects. “Scratch”, the free programming language developed by MIT, plays a big role in our learning activities. It’s a block-based language, which helps our students grasp the fundamentals of coding (like rules, orders, and events) extremely easily. For example, we taught our Year 6 students the basics of Scratch with a few experiments…and in a few months, they were building multi-level games with the platform, all on their own!
Our Year 4 students do the same but with Makey Makey, which lets them build physical structures like mazes that they can then program with Scratch. For example, so that if you roll a ball-bearing down a maze and it hits a certain element, it’ll trigger the computer to play a sound or score a point.
I think the greatest value of digital technology comes from engaging with our students. Children relate well to games, for example, and if you can tap into that interest, they’re much more likely to learn than from more formulaic lessons – no matter how sophisticated the technology is. Ultimately digital is just another channel for learning, but it’s one that empowers creativity at a whole new level.
That empowerment takes a lot of investment to happen, though – in hardware, software, and expertise. How did you manage to pull it all together?
I’d been one of the first adopters of OneNote Class Notebook my classes, and it completely transformed how I worked: I could write feedback on my students’ work with digital ink, have it display immediately on their devices, and not need to lug 30 books home every night! After putting the case to upper management, we rolled out OneNote Class Notebook to all teaching staff and upper primary students. From there, we’ve started to roll out Microsoft Surfaces to support our more ambitious projects with Makey Makey and Scratch. We just purchased a trolley of 30 Surfaces that our students can use for their Makey Makey projects in the classroom!
Our experience has been that other devices don’t support the learning experience as well as Windows 10 devices do. We’re starting to filter our BYOD program down to Windows-only devices because they’re much more powerful, intuitive, and affordable for kids and their families. The stylus-on-touchscreen setup is one that a lot of kids really gravitate to, and the range of devices on market really helps parents find one that doesn’t break their budget.
Finally, the support of the MIE community has been immensely valuable to the process. I’d been working with Surfaces and Microsoft Maker Space for some time on my own, and at some point, I was asked “why not apply to be an MIE Expert?” The best part of joining the community has been the connections made: so many of the projects I’ve done have then been informed and advised by other teachers in the network. There’s no ego: everyone just wants to contribute and work together to see our kids grow.
You’ve already made big inroads in your first year as E-learning Coordinator. What’s on the cards for 2018?
My first year was all about experimentation, and this year will be one for refining what I’ve learnt. My goal is to build out coding experiences all the way through K-6, while also ticking the boxes of the Digital and Design Technology curricula. We’ll most likely be using new applications on the Surface, like 3D Paint, as well as getting into the Maker Space tools for robotics in greater depth.
Personally, I’ll be getting more involved in the MIE community: I’ve just been appointed a “Master Surface Trainer” for Springfield, and I’m planning to use my other MIE Experts’ own experiences to inform how I train my colleagues at the school. Digital technology has not only helped us better engage our students – it’s also become a rallying point for teachers who believe in the value of innovation and creativity in the classroom. And I’m very glad that I have access to a community where we can pursue, and share with other teachers, that vision and how to make it happen.
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