Education at only 4,382 miles: From Great Falls to Barcelona

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By Brian Garner

Editor's note: As part of their partnership with technology/software giant Microsoft, Great Falls Elementary Principal Wendell Sumter and teacher Rachel McAbee were invited to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain in March. Here is the second part of the story of that trip.

During their week at the Global Education Forum in Barcelona, Great Falls Principal Wendell Sumter and teacher Rachel McAbee spent  time with educators from around the world. It expanded their world-view and opened their eyes.
“Every day at the Forum was different. Mr. Sumter and I were on the educational leadership track (of studies) looking at ways to implement (the technology discussed at the Forum) into your whole school,” she said.
According to the Microsoft Educator Network website, the Global Forum in Barcelona attracted more than 1,100 education leaders and other interested parties from more than 80 countries. It was by invitation only. During the Forum, educators got a chance to network with teachers from across the globe, take part in competitions and receive awards for the most innovative uses of technology, hear from keynote speakers and take part in panel discussions with world-renowned educators and school leaders and get some ideas on how to use the cutting-edge technology for learning in the classroom.
Forum attendees were addressed by Felipe, the Prince of Asturias, the heir apparent to the Spanish throne and the keynote address was provided by Anthony Salcito, Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education.
“One of the things we got to see was the technology showcase, where you were able to see different products people had developed that you can use in your classroom. We were able to see the new Microsoft products and attended a session where you learned about how to teach through gaming and how to use products like Microsoft Movie Maker...to create lessons,” McAbee said.
A new and competitive part of the Forum was the Pitch Competition, where schools submitted ideas on how to use existing technology for innovative education.
McAbee said Great Falls' pitch was called Walk the World.
“What we were going to do was use Wiis and other interactive technology to get the kids active and have them chart the miles they walked, and we would chart a path across the United States and the globe based on the number of miles they walked that week. Along the way, they would discover new states and new countries,” McAbee explained.
The second component will be to connect with kids and teachers in the other countries by Skype, and learn something about the country and the culture from fellow students.
Sumter explained the pitch competition was actually to show ideas that were already being implemented, not something the schools wanted to so, so Great Falls did not place in that competition.
Sumter said the idea they submitted to the pitch competition was such a good one that with the help of the Chester Healthcare Foundation, the school will have a classroom next year dedicated to fitness and exercise as part of the CATCH program.
During the technology showcase, McAbee said they learned some ways to use existing and upcoming Microsoft technology, like the program that uses an X-Box and a Kinect to project an interactive math game, where the students are playing a soccer game, advancing the ball by solving math problems and discovering math facts.
The entire experience seemed overwhelming, certainly for both educators, but they each took away from the Forum an important concept or insight.
For Wendell Sumter, it was seeing the teachers get the recognition that they so rarely receive and so definitely deserve.
“The thing that stands out for me was the day they gave out the awards for the teacher projects. Teacher's submitted projects, and they were all housed in a large exhibit area, and there were judges that went around and judged them. To see the excitement on the faces of the teachers when the awards were announced, their realization that someone saw a project they had put together, and liked it enough to say 'this is worth celebrating'. That was like the Grammy Awards of Education,” he said.
For Rachel McAbee, the technology showcase was the most impressive thing at the Global Forum.
“To see what you can do with very little; a lot of times people hear about technology in schools and they think you have to have these huge computers, but there are places in this country and other countries that don't have that. But you can use something like a Kinect (which is readily available) and make learning come to life for these kids,” she said.
Fresh from the Global Education Forum, Sumter summed up the whole technology used in education versus the “we are getting away from the Three R's” debate this way: “We know that technology is an enhancement; it doesn't take the place of the educator – the educator is still the Number One factor, but the educator must be in tune with what's happening in education, in order to provide students with a quality education,” he said.
“But if you infuse technology into education, you turn students on, and when you turn students on, they're more eager to learn.”