Reimagining Curriculums with Technology Integrated Classrooms

Dapper Scout For Kirrin Finch

This post was originally posted on Kirrin Finch's Dapper Scout page, I am honored to represent their excellent work.

Feeling and Looking Good In The World Of Tech and Education

Meenoo Rami(she/they) is an author, national board certified teacher and a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft helping education, nonprofit, and government organizations to accelerate their digital transformation. Meenoo also worked as a teaching fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where they led the portfolio to help teachers refine their practice through collaboration. We chatted with Meenoo about life as a teacher and what it's like to work in tech as a queer, gender non-conforming person.

WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING IN TECH, A MALE DOMINATED FIELD?

Tech can be a lonely especially if you, like me, are an outsider - South Asian, Non-binary, Masculine presenting person. What has been helpful to me is to intentionally seek out mentors, sponsors, and communities like Lesbians Who Tech, who intentionally create opportunities for folks like me to find each other, mentor one and another, and share knowledge and opportunities. I am grateful for my mentors inside and outside of Microsoft who have also helped me to get a wider perspective and add to my skillset as a leader.

AS A SEASONED TEACHER, HOW DID YOU GET INTO TECH?

Working in tech wasn't an intentional plan. While teaching my students high school English in Philadelphia, I created a network for English teachers around the world to share resources, ideas, and find support in one and another. Forty percent of teachers leave the classroom within 5 years. As a result I was inspired to write a book called, Thrive so I could provide a resource to help fellow teachers survive and thrive in the classroom. Some of this work brought me the opportunity to work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and from there, I was asked to join Microsoft's effort to build world-class education solutions for schools and universities around the world. I feel lucky to do the work that puts students at the center of technological innovation.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE AND HOW HAS IT EVOLVED OVER TIME?

I would describe my style as minimal preppy. I like classic pieces that fit well, and stand the test of time. I don't follow trends or focus on brand names. Essentially, I look for items that fit well and make me feel like myself when I put them on.

WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WHILE FINDING YOUR STYLE?

Conversely, any gender non-conforming person feels the disappointment of being excited about a shopping trip or new item, that just doesn't make you feel like yourself. Finding your own comfort and power in how you dress is what I seek when choosing meaningful pieces.

HOW IMPORTANT ARE CLOTHES IN EXPRESSING YOURSELF IN THE WORKPLACE?

The old adage, first impressions do matter, and they get reinforced over time. Feeling great in what I'm wearing gives me the ability to feel confident in myself. It is invaluable especially when you're trying to influence outcomes, confidence in yourself is invaluable. For example, if I am giving a keynote speech there is a lot of pressure on the content, but people also make judgements about you based on what you're wearing, so it is important for me to look and feel good. The right fit brings out the innate confidence most people possess but don't get to express often.

When I feel good in what I'm wearing, I perform better.

HOW MUCH HAS THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED YOUR WARDROBE CHOICES? HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CLOTHING CHOICES CHANGING WHEN WE ARE ABLE TO GO BACK INTO THE OFFICE?

It has been hard to not get in a rut like most other people, but lately since I have been vaccinated, the weather is getting better, I have a renewed sense of hope and want to express it through my clothing choices. I will continue to look for ways to express my sense of style via video calls because they're not disappearing completely.

HOW TO CONNECT WITH MEENOO.

Instagram: @meenoorami
Meenoo's Book: Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching

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Let’s Read “Teaching Machines”: An Informal Book Club

Repost from Mary Beth Hertz's blog

This post is an introduction to an information book club conversation on Twitter centered around Audrey Watter’s new book, Teaching MachinesInformation on the logistics and how to purchase the book are below. Continue reading for some context around why we are excited to read this book

How it Started

When I first started my career in edtech back in the 2007-2008 school year, it was an exciting time for all of us blogging, tweeting and attending conferences about all of the possibilities that tech could bring to our classrooms. We shared ideas, took risks and tried to push the envelope around how this new “Web 2.0” could amplify student voices, give them agency and create a global community of learners. It felt magical. 

As the years passed and more and more schools began investing in technology, and technology and broadband became more commonplace in schools, it was clear that this magical feeling wouldn’t last. My computer lab was taken over for a month to drill kids on Study Island to prepare them for the annual standardized tests they would take in the Spring. Reading programs that required kids to sit in front of a computer with headphones on and click buttons became commonplace. Schools lauded the fact that now kids could type their essays and create slideshows to share what they had learned instead of turning in handwritten work or poster boards assembled with glue and scissors. This latter piece really only happened in schools with enough resources to provide students with this kind of access, which my school most definitely did not. Neither did any school I worked in for most of my early career. While many schools were teaching kids things like podcasting, video editing, and digital storytelling that allowed them to process what they were learning in completely new ways, others were simply replacing analog processes with digital ones or leveraging computers for “drill and kill” type programs aimed at improving students’ skills for standardized tests.

EdTech Now & Teaching Machines

I wish I could say that things have gotten better, but, well, that’s why Audrey Watters’ new book, Teaching Machines is so important. With the introduction of AI and Machine Learning and algorithms and the broad reach of the Silicon Valley mindset into edtech we are in a place where those of us in the field need to be conscious of how we got here and what, if anything has changed and what needs to change to ensure that edtech remains a way that lifts up student voices, helps them tap into their creativity and gives the avenues to help solve some of the massive societal and global issues that will permeate their adult lives. Audrey has always been that important voice re-centering the conversation, pushing back against the status quo and pointing out hypocrisy or practices that harm students rather than help them in the edtech sphere.

I haven’t read a physical book since last Spring when the world slowed down a little (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–it was great). All of my reading is done these days is by audiobook. I knew, however, that this book was one that I wanted to hold in my hands and read. 

I also know that, realistically, my capacity to stick to reading on a regular basis is limited, so I enlisted my brilliant friend, Meenoo Rami, in an endeavor to hold ourselves accountable to finish the book and process it together. I figured I could probably manage a chapter a week.

When I presented this idea to Meenoo, she suggested that we share our informal reading club plan on Twitter to see if others would be interested in some accountability as well. So, here we are…

Reading Together

If you already have a copy of Teaching Machines, feel free to play along! If you need a copy, you can purchase one here. I got mine from Indiebound, since I am trying to avoid supporting Amazon at the moment. If you are interested in the book but aren’t familiar with it, I suggest you read this brief post of hers (and the longer interview linked there) to get a sense of what makes her voice so important in education.

We will start our informal book club on September 13 and read a chapter a week for 14 weeks (this includes the Introduction and the Conclusion). Throughout the week, we will use #teachingmachines on Twitter to share our thoughts about what we are reading. So far we don’t have any guiding questions or specific structure. Really, this is more about having a place to go to discuss or ask questions and to hold ourselves accountable to reading it closely. 

You can follow me and Meenoo and #teachingmachines for more info and to connect around the book. We’ll post more leading up to and on September 13th to remind you to start reading!

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Podcast Miniseries with Heinemann Publishing

The Year Ahead with Meenoo Rami

Welcome to The Year Ahead, a mini-series from the Heinemann Podcast, hosted by Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching. Meenoo has always believed that teaching is harder if you do it alone, and teaching during a once in a lifetime pandemic is as hard as it gets, but by meeting educators around the world who are going through this too, maybe together, we can share ideas, commiserate, and be a witness to each other’s experiences. In this podcast series, we’ll meet educators who are getting ready to return to school under the most challenging and unusual circumstances.

via Heinemann Publishing

Episode 1 - Sarah Gross

In the first episode I spoke with Sarah Gross from New Jersey. Sarah teaches her students high school English and if you’re curious about how a reading/writing workshop educator pivots her practice in a hybrid learning environment, stay with us.

Listen on blog, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 2 - Katharine Hsu

In the second episode, I met Katharine Hsu. Katherine will be teaching 2nd grade in a title I school this year and will need to adapt many of her current practices to meet this moment. 

Listen on blog, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 3 - Bonnee Bentum

In the third episode, I met Bonnee who teachers her students in the School District of Philadelphia where she's striving to maintain deep connections with her students while teaching remotely.

Listen on blog, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 4 - James Protheroe

This episode features James Protheroe and his student-centered practice using technology. Thanks to all who have downloaded, listened, shared your feedback! 

Listen on blog, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

As always, your feedback means the world to me and if you listen, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you! Huge thanks to team at Heinemann for this opportunity to co-create.

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Meenoo Rami

CROSSPOST FROM CIO ARTICLE BY ALICE BONASIO

Many thanks to Alice Bonasio for the permission to link to the below piece she wrote for CIO and crosspost it here.

The fundamental question we should be asking children as they grow up is no longer what they want to “be,” but rather what they would like to “do.” What problems are they passionate about solving, and what are the skills that will enable them to achieve their goals.

Traditional education models are at odds with this type of thinking, however, as they are still built largely around the mythology of finite goals. The concept that there are clear milestones and an eventual finishing line to learning was never ideal, but it is even more woefully inadequate in a technology-enabled world. To thrive in volatile environments, we must embrace life-long learning.

One solution that educators are deploying to bridge that gap between traditional learning delivery systems and newer workflows and expectations is the use of gamified learning platforms. Gamified learning is very helpful in cultivating a mindset where problem-solving becomes a fun activity, and failure is seen as a stepping stone.
If, like me, you’re old enough to have earned your gaming chops alongside Mario or Sonic, you’re unlikely to recall exactly how many times you “died” along the way, or exactly how you adapted your strategy incrementally after each setback. The moments when you beat that boss and rescue the princess, however, tend to stick with you.
Vice President of Education at Microsoft Anthony Salcito spoke with me during this week’s Education Exchange conference (E2 in Paris, which brought together a diverse group of educators from all over the world to discuss how best to leverage technology such as Minecraft to deliver better learning outcomes for students.

For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it is a game that allows players to construct 3D worlds out of textured cubes, but players must explore and gather resources in order to do so. There are individual and collaborative multiplayer modes. It was originally published in 2011 before being acquired by Microsoft in 2014. To date, it has sold over 121 million copies making it second only to Tetris in terms of popularity. Microsoft has since developed Minecraft: Education Edition, which is used in schools and has additional pedagogical tools and functionalities.

Learning by Teaching
“When you find something joyful, you will discover that fully. I learn more from students than the people actually coding the game in Redmond, says Meenoo Rami ,Educator Advocate at Minecraft and Microsoft.

Since many students are already familiar with the platform from playing the game at home, educators are able to draw upon the student’s own expertise and to focus on the learning aspects rather than covering the mechanics of the technology itself. It also prompts situations where “expert” users mentor younger learners and also help teachers who might not be as familiar with the platform as their students, further fostering a collaborative ethos in the classroom.

Building Modular Skillsets
Another advantage of Minecraft is that it helps to encourage a modular approach to building skillsets. When each new problem demands you to find and leverage different resources, materials, and collaborations, you start to envisage those as pieces of a puzzle, for which there are multiple possible solutions. This is why LEGO and Minecraft have proven so popular and effective in those contexts, as their core design is in itself modular.

A recently published survey polled teachers across 11 countries and four continents. It revealed that students’ decision-making and communication ability were positively impacted by the time they spent playing Minecraft and that it cultivated a creative problem-solving mindset.

In Minecraft, starting over represents a new opportunity rather than a regrettable ordeal. Remaining calm and focusing on solving a problem is a skill that is likely to serve students well throughout their academic and professional careers.

Growth Mindset
Surveyed teachers reported that students using the platform were confident interacting freely during lessons, exercising agency often without prompts from teachers, and overcoming challenges as teams. They found that working through the game made it easier to bridge accessibility issues, and in those students with different learning styles and abilities, more easily able to find common ground and to share what they discover in multiple formats.

They also felt comfortable experimenting and perceived failure as part of the creative learning process. This resilience and growth mindset is very much recognized as a key desirable trait by employers, especially in innovative industries such as technology.
Paradoxically, however, the more teachers and students utilized the Minecraft platform to deliver pedagogical content and improve learning outcomes, the less emphasis they placed on the game itself. As is often the case with successful technology solutions, the measure of their success hinges on how invisible they become, allowing the content to shine through.

Social Emotional Learning
Considering how video gaming is often perceived as being socially isolating, it is somewhat surprising that one of the areas that was most dramatically improved by engagement with the Minecraft for Education platform was social and emotional learning (SEL).

A study conducted by Microsoft has shown that an increasing number of schools across the SEL, an approach that builds skills and competencies that help students be successful in school, work, and life.

In the context of K–12 education, SEL is the process through which students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
SEL initiatives thrive when woven into subjects across the curriculum throughout the traditional school day, tackling real-world problems, or at the very least problems that “feel” real to students.
Research has shown that students exposed to SEL are better equipped to manage themselves and exhibit agency over their own academic experience, have a greater understanding of the perspectives of others and a better ability to relate effectively to them and are able to make sound choices about personal and social decisions.
Social emotional learning comes to life when knowledge is applied to solving relevant problems, whether in the context of real-world scenarios or disguised as play. One of the best examples that Rami showed me was how students needed to leverage basic chemistry to obtain materials such as latex. This could, in turn, be used to make balloons. And those balloons can be attached to the whimsical pigs that populate the game (once you manage to catch them, that is). I have a feeling that applying chemistry to make pigs fly is the sort of thing that might make a student remember what that chemical components of latex are far better than memorizing the periodic table ever could. I know the image of those floating square pigs stuck in my mind.

Comprehensive SEL goals include developmental benchmarks across five key social and emotional competency domains, encompassing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making skills.

More Than Just a Videogame
Minecraft creates opportunities for transformational learning experiences, says Dr. Michelle Zimmerman, an educational researcher who works at Renton Prep Christian School, an institution that makes extensive use of the platform in delivering its curriculum.
Educators have the opportunity to help students develop empathy through gaming and imagine how they’d like to be treated, talk through scenarios in gaming and in their personal lives, and discuss how they would do something differently (or have wanted to be treated differently), then practice those skills. Technology doesn’t impede our ability to build relationships; conversely, with regard to gaming in the classroom, it can serve to further bolster them. We know that human connection can be powerful in many settings and environments. Gaming is no exception, Zimmerman concludes.

It’s somewhat ironic, Salcito says, that as the world becomes ever more digital, companies like Microsoft are more than ever in need of hiring people with interpersonal skills. As artificial intelligence transforms the labor market, the importance of human skills like creativity, interpersonal understanding, and empathy becomes exponentially more valuable.

Therefore, those who can make connections and foster collaboration in globally distributed teams, who are capable of relating to, empathize with, and inspire their peers. And that valuing of so-called “soft skills” in the workplace is far from a trend that’s unique to Microsoft. Because more companies are demanding this, universities are also pivoting towards offering “mission-based” degrees. In other words, you enroll in order to explore how to solve a problem rather than to “become” something.

Stephane Cloatre, Minecraft Global Mentor who works in partnership with Microsoft, says that this flexibility also allows the platform to evolve and incorporate emerging technologies as they become more prevalent for students. Mixed Reality, which is a big focus for Microsoft’s own strategy, is a prime example of this.

Rami adds that students and teachers ask all the time about when immersive functionality will be rolled out on the platform, but for Cloatre, the pieces are in place for that to happen since Minecraft is pretty much a 3D design platform already. It is easy to see how that could actually become quite an exciting avenue in the future. As immersive tech becomes pervasive, it will require a lot of fresh talent and skilled professionals to develop the ecosystem to its full potential.

Yet none of this, Salcito stresses, can happen without proactive educators leveraging the platform to appropriately support learning outcomes for students. “Educators are champions; without them, we can’t do this,” he concludes.

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