A guest post from Microsoft Partners in Learning US Forum alumni Lou Zulli, Jr., who was a two-time winner at the 2011 Forum. Over the next two months I am hosting bi-weekly guest posts from Forum alumni with the intent of hearing from educators who have experienced this unique professional learning forum, providing an opportunity for them to share their experiences, reflections and practical tips for others who are considering applying to the 2012 US Forum. A sincere thank you to these contributors for taking time from their important day jobs to offer these thoughtful posts.
“Lou, you really need to enter this project in the Innovative Education Forum.”
“You don’t know about Microsoft’s Partners in Learning?”
“No, but I guess I’m going to find out now, aren’t I?”
That conversation happened about a year ago and was the catalyst for a singular experience that became a career affirming journey like no other. And that’s exactly what it was, a journey.
After researching Partners in Learning I became intrigued by the thought of interacting with like-minded educators from the United States. I saw this as an opportunity to compare notes, exchange ideas and practices and to learn from each other. And honestly, I also was drooling over the free trip and the chance to walk the Microsoft campus in Redmond. But first I had to fill out the application.
I read some of the applications from the early acceptance and soon realized that my project was too broad and expansive and that I had to distill it down yet communicate how it was more than a sum of its parts. In effect, the application forced me to examine what I was teaching, how I was teaching it and what benefits my students were getting from what we were doing. It was a process that was long overdue.
The application questions are designed so that you have to be honest with yourself about your practices and your outcomes. I remember filling out my application and writing: “This project was never intended to integrate with the core subjects identified in the 21st Century Skills Framework.” I went on to explain what I had intended but I felt that after writing that the chances of acceptance were slim to none, but I was honest about the project and didn’t try to write what I thought the reviewers wanted to read.
And that is one of the most important points I can stress, be honest about your project and be honest with yourself. Use the application and the rubric companion to self-evaluate your project and your methods. Focus on the core strengths of your project and let your students speak for you, because after all, it is their evidence of learning and knowledge building that is the ultimate goal of your project. Also, make sure that any supporting evidence you use is representative of your students work.
So what makes a good project? At both the US Forum and the Global Forum I observed that most all of the projects had the following in common:
· Technology was not the focus of the lesson but the tool used for the outcome.
· The teacher was the guide not the sage. Students were allowed to work autonomously.
· Projects were cross-curricular and collaborative.
· When possible they moved outside the classroom.
· Projects should be replicable.
· Do not create a project just for the Forum. It should be a project that promotes learning and advances your curriculum.
The application is only the first part of the entire Partners in Learning Forum experience. If you are fortunate enough to have your application accepted for the US Forum you then have to start to think about presentation and display. And that is a story left for a future post. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions; just use the contact information listed below. Good Luck and I hope to see you at the US Forum at the end of July.
Best of luck!
Lou Zulli, Jr.
IT Instructor, Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School (St. Petersburg, FL)
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