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OneNote—a platform for creativity, collaboration and communication

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Today’s post was written by Naomi Gebremeskel Haile, a student at Renton Prep, with an introduction from one of her teachers, Dr. Michelle Zimmerman.

This is the story of a girl with a strong identity in two worlds: Ethiopia and the United States. I have had the opportunity to loop with a cohort of students for four years and have been able to watch Naomi grow, just as she and her classmates have helped me grow as an educator and researcher. I’ve learned how essential it is to train students to understand learning design (see 21 CLD and Teaching Kids Learning Design and Assessment), standards and content progression so they can now help design and articulate reasons for the direction of their learning.

One of my goals is to help students learn to think on their own, use tools, resources and alternate perspectives to push that thinking, and create original works that can challenge the thinking of their peers and adults. I want them to be able to transfer their learning and help others learn from their own experiences. That goal is what led to a redesign of the structure of our school so that middle and high school students intentionally merge content in meaningful ways and demonstrate their understanding through projects and in teaching others, including younger students.

Although our middle school and up has been 1:1 with laptops since 2009, this is our first year with Surface’s for grades 3–10. Naomi’s work gives a glimpse into real-time co-authoring and collaboration across Office 365, Word, OneNoteSwayOffice MixDocs.com, Movie Maker, Community Clips, Skype and Snip working together to complete Project Based Learning. It shows what is possible with the personal and global connections to experiential and blended learning at our school.

As educators, we all have goals for our students. We have goals for our own teaching career. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in teaching and assessing and worrying about keeping up with the latest technology. When we take the time to listen to the individual stories of the kids in our classes, we have the chance to help them create a powerful story. With access to technology, we can help them amplify that story and let their voice be heard. The rest of this post was written by Naomi. When asked how she felt about authoring this blog, she said, “It made me feel important.”

—Dr. Michelle Zimmerman

Hello educators of the world! I’m Naomi, a 14-year-old 9th-grade student living in Seattle, Washington, USA. My mother and father are both Ethiopian immigrants who have had struggles with their education. My mother never had a chance to learn anything past the 5th grade. And although my father was able to attain his bachelor degree, he had to stop going to school after 6th grade because of the war going on around him. He then resumed his schooling in Ethiopia many years later, as a 21-year-old. Education is equally important to both of them, as they want me to have access to more opportunities than they did at my age.

For me personally, knowing where I’m from helps give me guidance towards what path to take. Something that my uncle recently told me that really stuck with me is that “culture is everything” and that it defines who you are, but not in a negative way. Identifying and embracing your culture builds community, a place for you to thrive with the support and counsel of people who want the best for you.

In a traditional classroom, there may not be room to investigate, create and explore culture, and express that part of me back to my classmates, or anyone else in this lonely, lonely world. That’s where OneNote comes in.

OneNote is a computer program that serves as a notebook, but also as a platform for creativity, collaboration and communication between students, teachers, and parents.

My class recently went on a field trip to see Seattle Art Museum’s “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art” exhibit. We are now working on a project where we connect things from the museum that relate to all of our in-school subjects. Also, we picked themes to focus on and relate to things we saw at the exhibit.

Click here to see my Sway and my collaborator Tre’Shawn’s Sway.

Our team’s Office Mix is embedded within each Sway. If you’re wondering what it looks like for us to collaborate while we’re using these tools, watch the Office Mix. I used the screen recording feature to show glimpses into real-time co-authoring:

These tools allow me to express and create while still meeting the school’s requirements, as well as covering core content like math, science, history and my fourth language. See an example of what inking in OneNote looks like while I’m learning Spanish.

OneNote is accessible through a variety of devices, including non-Windows products (iPhones, Android tablets, etc.). It differs from a notebook or a textbook because it allows for teachers to access their students’ work, as well as provide direct feedback and insert homework assignments, important documents and notes for the whole class to see immediately.

Creativity 1

A OneNote page displaying in class notes, formatted by the teacher and completed by the student.

It is also a platform for students to work on projects collaboratively while the teacher has complete access to everything in their students’ notebooks. This is also one of the factors that makes OneNote more effective than not using technology—you have access to whatever, whenever, so it gives you more control over your students’ work. For collaborative work, our teachers can see when we made additions or edits and can see our initials next to the work we contributed. In the screenshot below, you can see an example of this with “JF,” “TT” and “AB,” my classmates’ initials. Below the text there’s a hyperlink. When we copied and pasted text from the article in ABC-Clio’s Ancient History Database, OneNote automatically cited our source.

Creativity 2

A project completed collaboratively between students in OneNote’s Collaboration Space. This history project focused on great ancient civilizations of Africa, as background research for our projects focusing on the Seattle Art Museum exhibit that we went to.

The Performance of Understanding (POU) Japan was a project that I did back in 7th grade, and it was inspired by our class’s field trip to the Seattle Art Museum to see the “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion“ exhibit. OneNote allowed us to create a portfolio filled with multiple connections to Japanese culture, history, literature, as well as the field trip. After researching all the topics that were Core Knowledge criteria, we entered our information in each of the given sections and created artifacts that showed everything we learned. I came up with the idea of writing haikus for each of the subjects, a type of poetry that originated in Japan. Watch the video that I made using Community Clips and Movie Maker.

OneNote gives us the flexibility to build content in class from different perspectives. It gives us a place to communicate our ideas with others and to work collaboratively with fellow classmates. My parents wanted me to get the best education possible, which now translates into an education where I’m able to design how I learn and communicate from a global perspective—Africa, Japan and Latin America are all represented within this blog post—made possible by technology! The blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity, a dream that my parents had for me.

Naomi Gebremeskel Haile

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