Through Scotland’s nationwide educational web service Glow, students begin their schooling already connected. Using this portal, more than 16,000 Scottish students and their teachers can draw on resources like Office 365 Education to work together and learn from each other using Yammer and other free Office 365 tools.
When teacher Natalie Burgess began using the tools early in 2015, her Primary 3 students were only six and seven years old, but she had big plans for them. Like any seasoned educator, she started small, handing out cards with the students’ email addresses and log-in information on them. Step by step, together as a group and then on their own, the students began logging in and incorporating online activities into their day.
“As primary teachers, we have to teach everything,” Natalie said. “It can be overwhelming. So I find it best to start with one subject area, get the kids in small groups, and get them to share their work with their friends.”
It didn’t take the students long to catch on and before she knew it the children were showing her tips and tricks that she didn’t even know about. By mid-year, the class was ready to tackle a major research project on Viking civilization.
The students worked together using several applications. PowerPoint helped them organize the written and visual elements of their presentations, and Natalie could correct their spelling and make other suggestions using the comments function. The students also wrote their own Viking sagas and then created interactive online videos with Office Mix in PowerPoint. When parents showed up for “Open Evening,” they were treated to an impressive array of multimedia insights about this popular but often misinterpreted culture.
In March 2015, when Scotland hosted its first Digital Learning Week, classrooms across the country in three grade levels used Word Online to create stories together. Scottish children’s author Cathy MacPhail wrote the first paragraph, and then individual schools could sign up to write subsequent paragraphs. At primary 3, the story evolved to include a kidnapping and a shadowy world of confusion. Natalie’s class won the chance to write the conclusion. Her entire class worked on their contribution, first in small groups, brainstorming what the characters were like and how they would behave, before deciding how the story ended.
By the end of the year, the students were telling their own stories collaboratively using OneNote with its organized digital notebook structure. They could start the story working in pairs in class, and then continue their collaboration after school in their personal areas of the notebook, a deft introduction of the concept of homework on Natalie’s part, and an easy way for parents to help their kids learn.
“The parents started to ask me, ‘What is this Glow thing you’re using, because I can’t get hold of my own smartphone at night; the kids are always on it,’” Natalie said. “These students became advocates for Office 365 because they could use the tools effectively, and use them appropriately.”
When moving into Primary 4, several students from Natalie’s class became a part of the Digital Leaders Group for the whole school. After Natalie trained them on Office 365, they created their own lesson plans and taught other classrooms how to collaborate with technology.
These applications are free and available for teachers and students worldwide. And as these Scottish students have demonstrated, getting started is “elementary” even when you are looking to become digital leaders for your class, school, or country.