At a glance …
• Sunset Elementary School teachers Cheryl Arnett and Melany Neton recently attended the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 U.S. Forum in Redmond, Wash.
• The pair presented a project involving their first- and second-grade classes learning through use of the Xbox 360 Kinect, among other Microsoft resources, and won second place in the knowledge building and critical thinking category.
• The two are among the 16 educators who will represent the U.S. at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 Global Forum in Prague, Czech Republic, in November.
“You never know where the next idea for solving a world problem can come from, but it’s going to come from a child on this Earth somewhere. Why not someone from Craig, Colorado?”
— Cheryl Arnett, Sunset Elementary School teacher
One of the most popular ad campaigns of the last 30 years involved champion athletes declaring, “I’m going to Disneyland,” after winning the Super Bowl, NBA Finals or World Series.
For Cheryl Arnett and Melany Neton, their ultimate destination may not be the famed Anaheim amusement park, but the Magic Kingdom still figures quite heavily into their own recent victory.
Arnett and Neton, Sunset Elementary School teachers, recently attended the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 U.S. Forum in Redmond, Wash., a two-day conference for educators from across the country to present projects utilizing Microsoft technology in the classroom.
Out of 102 attendees, the two Sunset teachers were among 16 picked as the top classroom projects in the nation, all of whom will go on to represent the country at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 Global Forum later this year.
Winners at the U.S. Forum were selected in categories such as collaboration, extending learning beyond the classroom, cutting edge use of technology for learning, and teacher as innovator and change agent.
Arnett and Neton took home second place in the category of knowledge building and critical thinking for their project, “Let’s Go To Disneyland.”
The pair teamed up with their lesson plans in March to put together the endeavor for Arnett’s first-graders and Neton’s second-graders.
“We were talking about needs and wants, so we had them plan a dream vacation,” Neton said.
Students grouped together to plot out an entire trip to Disneyland, including finding it on a map, arranging the method of transportation and figuring gas mileage and hotel costs, building skills in math, financial literacy and geography through methods like critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and research.
The teachers were able to track their pupils’ progress through Microsoft’s One Note documents saved to the SkyDrive cloud storage system.
“That worked out really well as a tool for us because we had pretty large classrooms, so that way we could touch every student and team to make sure they were doing OK,” Neton said.
Following the preparation, the children were whisked away to the beloved vacation spot via the video game console Xbox 360 and its accompanying equipment, the Kinect motion sensor, which lets players experience a virtual version of the park in the game “Disneyland Adventures.”
Students also kept journals of their experience and made items like postcards and brochures for family and friends.
“The big idea we wanted them to get was that Tinkerbell doesn’t grant your dreams — you have to set goals, make plans and work hard and you can make your dreams come true,” Arnett said.
Arnett said presenting the project to fellow teachers at the forum was a learning experience all on its own.
“They’re about collaboration and connecting to other like-minded teachers and sharing and learning all sorts of new ideas,” she said.
Participants were judged by organizers on the effectiveness of their projects in the classroom and the creative techniques involved in educating students with Microsoft technology.
Among the top-ranked projects were those focusing on improving learning skills for blind students, cleaning up communities to raise funds for new classroom technology and creating special media like documentary films or animation to benefit social change.
The first-place finisher in Arnett and Neton’s category was “Peace Project,” created by a teacher from Baton Rouge, La., focusing on interaction between her students in Louisiana and those at a school in Japan.
“It was just an honor to be there around so many great teachers,” Neton said. “They just make you feel like you’re really making a difference.”
Arnett said they also met the only other Colorado teachers at the forum, a pair from a school in Denver whose project featured goals similar to the Disneyland project.
“Theirs was with high school freshman trying to buy a car by creating a start-up business,” Arnett said. “That’s what’s great about these things is that it’s for teachers from preschool to high school.”
Among the top finishers at the U.S. Forum, Arnett and Neton will take their presentation to a much larger stage in November, traveling to the Partners in Learning 2012 Global Forum, hosted by Microsoft in Prague, Czech Republic.
“We’ll be making all kinds of global connections to add to the U.S. connections we just made,” Arnett said.
Attending an event on an international scale will be a new experience for Neton, who also attended the U.S. Forum in 2011 with fellow teacher Amy Jones.
Arnett went to a similar Microsoft event two years ago: the 2010 Worldwide Innovative Educator Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.
“It changed my life when I went to that,” Arnett said. “Microsoft is very committed to helping the transformation of education globally through the connection of teachers. It’s not just about the U.S., and they all need to be able to communicate and talk to each other.”
Arnett added that the people who arrange the events on behalf of Microsoft are turning their attention away from simply introducing technology into the classroom and looking at the bigger picture of its purpose.
“We have lots of technology and they’re starting to put the emphasis on what we’re teaching and why we’re teaching it,” she said.
Arnett considers the approach to education to be a universal language.
“When we all sit down, we all have the same problems and goals and expectations,” she said. “It’s not just about us, because it’s about the kiddos sitting in our rooms. They’re going to be the ones having a richer experience because this is our education to pass onto the children.”
Arnett added that reaching out to the rest of the world shows students how much of an impact they can have.
“You never know where the next idea for solving a world problem can come from, but it’s going to come from a child on this Earth somewhere,” she said. “Why not someone from Craig, Colorado?”
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