The Freedom Writer Teachers, OneNote and the Long Beach Airport

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Last night I was sitting in the Long Beach, CA airport waiting for my Seattle return flight that was delayed four hours. Great excuse to write a new blog entry!  For those of you who have never “experienced” the pleasure of the Long Beach airport, it probably wouldn’t be high on my sightseeing lists.

Why was I in Long Beach you ask? Well this weekend Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writer Teachers had a multi-day conference getting together to prepare to write their next book . For those of you who have never heard of the former teacher, Erin Gruwell and the original Freedom Writers, check out the Freedom Writer Diaries book, the Freedom Writers Movie (2007 w/ Hillary Swank) or Erin Gruwell’s excellent biography “Teach with your heart”. There is also a foundation established with the same name – Freedom Writers Foundation.

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I had the chance to meet the amazing Erin Gruwell a few months ago through a Microsoft Public Sector Education employee named Karla. Erin and her group of Freedom Writer Teachers hail from states across the country and have a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. These teachers are going to chronicle their teaching experiences with stories, similar to the method used in the original Freedom Writer Diaries book. This book will be released by Double Day publishing next August in 2009. And the tool they are going to use to collaboratively write this new book? You guessed it – OneNote!  Karla had been working with Erin and her foundation to coordinate this event, amongst other partnerships with the Freedom Writer Teachers and Microsoft over the next year.

The Freedom Writer Teachers had a four day conference from Friday-Tuesday at the Newport Beach, CA Marriott.  HP donated 150 Mini-Note laptops to the group of teachers and Microsoft donated 150 copies of Office 2007 Ultimate, MS Student 2009, and Windows Live tools. The teachers were surprised with a Friday night “Oprah” moment where Erin made the announcement about the free HP Mini-Notes + MS Software to the entire group.

I was invited to the Newport Beach Marriott on Sunday to do a 4 hour workshop on using OneNote. I was also accompanied by Sara, a 7th Grade Forest Teacher and Tony Franklin, the Philadelphia School of the Future SSP. I hopped on a plane on Sunday morning and flew in for the day.  The workshop covered everything from the basics of OneNote, to OneNote education scenarios, and all the way to shared notebooks and collaboration. Sara and Tony were my “Teacher’s aides” as we went through the exercises with the teachers.

It was an amazing experience and the group of teachers are very tight knit and passionate about the work they do.  I also observed a lot of teachers having a blast using OneNote in both personal and collaborative ways. We started out with OneNote basics including organization and the flexible page surface.  We also covered embedded files, search, audio/video recording, screen clipping, tagging, and drawing tools as well as other education-focused scenarios.  Towards the end of the day, we did a test run of the entire room using a deeply structured shared notebook where each teacher had his/her own section. For the most part it worked well, although we quickly sucked up all the bandwidth in the conference room and things slowed to a crawl by the end of the exercise 🙂 It was great to see the level of spontaneous creativity that quickly appeared across the entire notebook.

Here’s me on the right with a Freedom Writer Teacher.

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I felt honored to be able to work with this inspirational group and I look forward to helping them with their journey. I’ll be posting updates on this blog as the Freedom Writer Teachers move forward with their book and how OneNote helps the process.


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