Educator Aaron Maurer of Bettendorf Middle School in Iowa Inspires His Students with Microsoft Tools in the Classroom

Aaron Maurer is a blur of activity. A 12-year veteran at Bettendorf Middle School in Iowa, he gives motivational speeches to kids, provides resources as an instructional coach to other teachers, develops science and technical programs—including an engineering project that turned toothbrushes into robots—and posts regular entries to his website, appropriately called Coffee for the Brain.

If that’s not enough, Maurer recently added another activity to his weekly task list: that of Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. As an MIE Expert, Maurer is diving into Microsoft technologies, and the results are surprising him.

We tracked him down to talk about his experience as an MIE, and what’s at the top of his interest list right now.

Why did you join the MIE program?

I’m always trying to find people who will challenge me, and last year [2014] I began looking into the MIE program. I applied and used my BrushBot engineering project as part of the application process. I’m relatively new to the program, but it’s already changing the way I approach technology. Not only am I able to connect with a huge network of people in the MIE program, I’m also getting exposed to hardware and software that I think can transform the way teachers teach and students learn.

What technologies are catching your attention today?

One of the benefits of becoming an MIE is new experiences—including using the Microsoft Surface line. It’s really opened my eyes to some remarkable tools that I think can enhance education, learning, and productivity. And I’m not just making that statement to be nice. I was a huge Apple fan for a long time and I know a lot of teachers use Chromebooks. But I’m finding myself constantly turning to my Surface Pro 3—and soon my Surface 3 device—to do things that are a lot harder to do on an iPad or a Chromebook. I’m also starting to use Microsoft OneNote to create and share lesson plans with other teachers, and have been experimenting with the Office Mix add-on for PowerPoint for doing multimedia presentations.

Can you talk about your enthusiasm for the Surface devices?

I think the Surface tablets really represent a new type of device for teachers and students. We have iPads in our school, and lots of people are using Chromebooks as well due to the cost. But the new Surface devices can hit the same price point, and all of the Surface devices—the Surface Pro 3 as well as the newer Surface—offer so much more value, especially in terms of the software that you can run on them. With my Surface Pro 3, I can load and run Adobe movie and audio editing software, I have access to the full Microsoft Office product line, and I can load any Windows program that I need. There are far more limitations on what kind of software you can use with an iPad or Chromebook.

Can you give an example of some innovative way you’re used a Surface device?

Actually, there’s a very recent example involving my wife. She teaches 8th grade math at the school. She had back surgery that kept her out of school for a while, and was worried about ensuring that the substitutes who came into her class would be delivering the course content properly. So the first thing we did was go to my Surface Pro 3 and open an online version of Microsoft Word. There was no need to download and install any software. Then we used Screencast-O-Matic to record the screen as she made notes. She used the pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3 to make notes, and found it a great, natural-feeling tool for making handwritten notes and entering mathematical symbols. Then she pressed the record button, and got to work. She was able to share the work with the substitute teachers.

What other projects do you have in mind that may change the way teachers teach?

This recent project involving my wife opened my eyes to a host of possibilities. For example, teachers can prepare and record lessons to share with students who are out sick. We could use the Surface and different apps to create lessons for students who are behind in a class and need to review materials at their own pace, reviewing content in a much richer way than just going through a book. Or it could be something simple like veteran teachers recording themselves using the camera on a Surface to instruct new teachers on best practices. Combined with ability to run any Windows software, I think the Surface devices will be incredibly powerful tools for teachers.

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