Colleen Horzelenberg is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and a teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Elementary School in Ontario. She’s passionate about the ways that educational technology like Skype in the Classroom empowers students with creative avenues for learning, and engenders a greater sense of community and inquiry beyond the conventional classroom. For TransformEd: Class of 2030, we asked her about how she’s working to provide future-ready education for her students.
What do you see happening for students of different backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles when they’re able to personalize their learning?
Technology has played a large role in creating a greater sense of diversity within my classroom over the past few years. In my Grade 2 class, students have been able to share about their backgrounds with ease through using presentation platforms such as Sway. Rather than just a pen-to-paper presentation, students are able to gather vivid images or videos and place them within their slides. These images, accompanied by text and a variety of fonts and graphics, entice the other students to learn more from each other. Young presenters gain confidence through such positive experiences and, as a result, end up sharing more openly and proudly about their cultures in other ways throughout the year. This has created an environment of curiosity, interest, and most importantly acceptance. Skype in the Classroom has allowed my class to meet people from all over the world. I’m proudest when students make a connection—sometimes months later—to a Skype experience we’ve had! For me, this truly solidifies the importance of teaching beyond the four walls of our classroom.
If we’re empowering student voice today, what qualities will that translate to when they join the workforce tomorrow?
We’re now starting to realize the importance of social skills such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and the ability to teach others. This is highlighted in the summary report: The Class of 2030 and Life-Ready Learning: The Technology Imperative. Empowering student-voice at a young age will help! Through explicitly teaching collaboration and giving opportunities for practice, students will become better at the very skills that will help them be more employable as young adults. For example, educators can encourage collaboration within the classroom through the use of Flipgrid. When using Flipgrid, students film themselves speaking about a designated topic, and then these videos are shared with the class. Many students who are painfully shy about presenting in real life find public speaking success through the use of Flipgrid, since it’s a less intimidating way to have their voice heard. Students using this type of interactive technology learn early-on about digital citizenship and the importance of respecting other people’s views and styles of presenting. In the workforce, these very kids may one day be in meetings or on video conference calls where they’ll have to respectfully listen before providing their own ideas.
What small course-changes can you make in your students’ day-to-day learning that can lead to greater preparedness for the world they’ll face in the long term?
One small change that can be made within a classroom to yield substantial results and long-term effects: Provide students with a strong sense of ownership and belonging. My own students have started bringing in items such as board games or stress-toys from home to be added and shared to our class’ “Calming Corner.” School is their second home, after all. Students that are treated as valued and contributing members of the classroom are more likely to have a sense of pride in who they are and the work that they produce. Students who feel a sense of ownership and belonging within the classroom are also more likely to have higher confidence and self-esteem. This again will translate into broader ideas shared with the teacher and classmates, which result in a more diverse environment where students grow together and learn from each other. So, in essence, the attention educators devote to creating a safe and strong “community feel” within their teaching environment will be rewarded with a classroom full of self-assured students who are putting forth their greatest efforts academically, because they want to.
To find out more about future-ready learning and the skills that will matter most for the Class of 2030, head to microsoft.ca/TransformEd. For courses, resources, and a community of edtech-empowered educators, visit education.microsoft.com. To learn about Microsoft education tools and classroom technology, or to schedule free PD for your school, take a look at microsoft.ca/education.