Dec 13 2016

Microsoft ‘Hacks’ the Classroom to Help Teachers Innovate

With the help of some new programs, the tech leader is assisting educators with STEM.

“Life hacks” aren’t only about easier ways to clean your closet or negotiate for a deal on a new car. Thanks to Microsoft, hacks can also be applied in the classroom to make innovation a little simpler.

In late September, the tech giant held its second annual online and in-studio Hack the Classroom event for thousands of educators across the globe with a goal of doing just that.

“We wanted to do something online that caught the attention of teachers who didn’t know all of what Microsoft had to offer,” says Sonja Delafosse, Microsoft’s senior manager of worldwide education.

The two-hour live event, which is available to be streamed on-demand until Dec. 20, included keynotes about the hottest topics in K–12 education, like makerspaces and gamification. Also, Microsoft hosted an interactive contest with their latest program, Hacking STEM, Delafosse says.

Hacking STEM, which was launched earlier this year as a partnership of Microsoft’s Education Workshop, Microsoft Garage and Hack for Good, is a monthly education guide to help teachers with STEM topics and to “support teachers in building inquiry and project-based activities that embed computational and design thinking.”

“Hacking STEM looks at how to integrate tech in really meaningful ways,” says Delafosse. “We want to help teachers do STEM activities who don’t think they can.”

During the event, Delafosse says teachers from all disciplines — both in studio and at home — were able to download the materials and complete the project in under two hours.

The Importance of Training for Technology Use

Events like this and the Hacking STEM program are important for the support that they provide teachers, as teachers themselves attest.

In an Education Week survey, 33 percent of teachers cited a “lack of training” as a barrier for tech use in their classrooms, and similar research by Kent State University found that many teachers interested in using mobile technology are not getting the professional development, training and support they need.

Further, speaking with EdTech this summer, Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, pointed to the professional development and training they give their teachers as the key component in creating “confidence and willingness to take risks around technology.”

What Microsoft is offering through events like Hack the Classroom and the Hacking STEM program, Delafosse says, is an easy, cost-effective way for teachers who lack this kind of support to find it in educators as near as down the street and as far away as South Korea.

“We believe it is critical to create a community of educators across the globe,” she says. “It’s about how we can help teachers find the joy in what they’re doing and help students reach their goals.”

Hack the Classroom will return next fall, but in the spring, Delafosse says the Microsoft Innovative Educator program will be having an “education exchange” in Seoul, South Korea, which will also be livestreamed.


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