Navigating an IEP Meeting: Advocates, Parents, and Staff, OH MY!

UPDATE FOR COVID-19: If you need to hold meetings remotely/virtually, here are a few tips:

  • Be sure all team members are comfortable with whatever technology you are using. This means ensuring they are able to use it and accept that platform.
  • Use a platform that respects privacy and verify the settings before starting the meeting.
  • Does everyone have access to the technology?
  • Use video when possible. The facial expressions of those on the team can convey a lot. However, make sure the team is comfortable with this. My family asked to use Skype with video for an IEP for a participant who couldn’t be there in person and were told it was not allowed because it might be recorded and had to switch to Skype with voice only. This was cumbersome and set a negative tone at the start of the meeting. On our end, we should have clarified this beforehand. Communication is key!
  • Introduce all team members at the beginning and, if using voice only, have the person speaking identify themselves.
  • Respect privacy. Parents might not appreciate hearing the voices of others in your family while discussing the needs of their child.
  • Have suggestions ready for parents for learning at home such as set a schedule (if possible) and assistive technology that doesn’t require a paid subscription. Some of my favorites are Office Lens for iOS and Android and Seeing AI for iOS. If you are in a Google only district, check out the Chrome extension that gives you access to Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.


As a former special education teacher and an elementary teacher, I have sat in on a few IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings (probably about 200). The past few years, my role has changed due to a family member with Sotos Syndrome, a genetic disorder with a variety of symptoms. Now I sit in IEPs with family members, serving as a guide, a support, and sometimes an informal advocate.

I'm all prepared for the IEP meeting! Cover me! I'm going in! Fb/spinningcarsautismadventure with a cartoon of someone wearing full military camo, padding, and a helmetWhile prepping this blog post, I searched for memes to add, but found they didn’t convey my hopes for IEP meetings. This blog from a mom echoes the frustration felt by many, especially with this meme, “I’m all prepared for the IEP meeting! Cover me! I’m going in!” attributed to spinningcarsautismadventure.

Below are 5 suggestions for IEP teams on how to make it a more positive experience.

1FIRST – no matter which member of the team you are, remember the STUDENT COMES FIRST! The STUDENT is the purpose for the meeting and the rest of you are there to help the STUDENT. It is NOT about your own agenda. It is NOT about the programs, the services, the opinions, the budget, etc. It is about working collaboratively to make sure the STUDENT is able to learn and thrive in school. It is about the foundations and supports that need to be in place for success.

STAFF – remember that the parents/guardians have spent more time with their child than you have and should be seen as a source of knowledge, not an adversary. Their input is important.

TEACHERS – remember that your student did not choose to need an IEP. All students are individuals with feelings and needs. They are more than their “label” and know that you have support! You have a wide range of abilities and needs in your classroom and have to vary your instruction (differentiated instruction) per their needs.

PARENTS – remember that the staff have been trained and are a source of knowledge for you. Your child is probably not the only one they’ve worked with so they bring a wide range of perspectives and experiences to the table. That being said, you are your child’s best advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

ADVOCATES – remember that you are there to advocate for the STUDENT, not the parent. The STUDENT should always be the focus. Also, being adversarial does not benefit anyone. Speak up, support the parent, and remember you are ALL there for the STUDENT.

2SECOND – perspective, perspective, perspective. Each member of the team is viewing the student from a different perspective. During my masters program, a professor showed our class “Educating Peter”. We were split into groups and asked to view the documentary from the perspective of Peter’s family, the teacher, and other students. Try to view the IEP meeting from other perspectives.

3THIRD – Educationalese and Buzzwords. Avoid them or explain them. At one meeting, an abbreviation was used that I wasn’t familiar with, even though I taught special ed. I spoke up and asked them to define it. Not everyone is comfortable with speaking up so don’t make it necessary.Buzzwords in large letters in the center with these terms written around it: MOOC, child-centered, life-long learning, 21st Century Learning, PLN, inquiry-based, scaffolding, PBL, UDL, flipped classroom, critical thinking, authentic assessment, differentiated instruction, SAMR

This goes for general education, too. If you want the community to support you, don’t alienate them with buzzwords or make them feel less for not knowing the latest terminology. You may be the “expert” in the room for education, but the parent is the “expert” when it comes to their child. (Plus, once you’ve been teaching long enough, you’ll see similar ideas come around again and repackaged.)

Parents, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. You are your child’s best advocate. Staff, use common terms that everyone can understand. No one in the room is better than anyone else. Again, this is an IEP TEAM so everyone should focus on being a team player to make decisions that are best for the STUDENT.

4FOURTH – Tech can be your friend. At a recent meeting, the comments page was projected on the wall for the whole team to review as it was read to us. Accessibility should be acknowledged in meetings as well as the classroom.

Which leads me to…

5FIFTH (last and best) – Special education paperwork can be a BEAST! Tame the beast with OneNote. Purple OneNote logo

If you aren’t familiar with it, it is an AMAZING program from Microsoft that is available FREE! Think of it as a digital Trapper Keeper that is searchable and across platforms. That 4 inch binder my family member would lug to meetings is now in an app on her phone, on her computer, and can be easily shared. I have it on my computer and can add notes during the meeting, pull up past meeting notes, previous IEPs, etc. If you need a FREE Microsoft account, click here for a referral link to get more storage space. OneNote is one of the included apps.OneNote the Windows 10 app with sections for: Communication, Evaluations, IEP, Report Cards - Progress, Sample Work, Behavior, Medical

You can create as many sections and pages within sections as you need. It is on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and web-based. Use the internal camera insert feature in the app or an app like Office Lens to take pictures of paperwork, type notes, hand-write notes, insert files by dragging and dropping in various versions, and more!

Teachers, imagine your caseloads in OneNote – a section for each student with pages for parent contacts, observations, teacher information, goals, etc. I used to carry around a binder with contact logs, observation logs, goal charts, and more. Cumbersome and not easily searchable like OneNote, which can not only search text, but text IN IMAGES!

For a beginner tutorial on using OneNote for IEPs (or on how to use OneNote), see our YouTube video.

(OneNote also has the Immersive Reader tools, but that is for another post. Here’s a quick YouTube introduction to it. For more accessibility resources, visit here. We listed more ideas for using OneNote in a previous blog post.)

Hopefully these tips will help make your next IEP meeting a pleasant experience for everyone.

Keeping Your Sanity During the Holidays

Updated November 2019: The holidays are approaching and it can be a hectic time for some. Here are a few free apps/websites/programs that help us keep our sanity.

DECEMBER 2019 UPDATE: Check out this Wakelet collection of Google activities from @EricCurts, adapted by me (@Filibuster3) for Microsoft along with other holiday ed tech ideas.

Purple OneNote logoFirst off, in case you haven’t noticed a trend in our blogs, we LOVE ONENOTE! It is a free program from Microsoft that is app-based, software, and web-based so it is with you wherever you go! If you don’t already have a Microsoft account, here’s a referral link which gives you some extra storage space. Best Twitter account to follow for updates? Definitely @mtholfsen!

schoolhouse at night with star trails in the skyWe posted a YouTube video to our channel that shows how K uses OneNote, Office Lens, and CopyMeThat for organizing recipes, but OneNote can organize so much more! Add a checklist for things to do, gifts to purchase, cards to send, what to pack for that holiday trip, etc. Create a receipt section and use the Insert/Camera feature (or Office Lens, another free app from Microsoft) to keep track of receipts and costs. (Tax season is coming!)

Copy Me That logo with grey and red kitchen utensilsIf you aren’t familiar with CopyMeThat, check out the video. It starts around the 3:55 mark. One click and those online recipes are put into your collection without all the distractions and extra information. It is like Reading View (Edge and Safari browsers) or Read Mode (Wakelet) for recipes!

Microsoft Sway logoWant to collect family pictures? Create a shared OneNote notebook and let everyone add their memories, pictures, audio messages, and more! Another option to keep the kids busy is have them create a Sway including videos, pictures, audio files, etc. You can insert the Sways directly into OneNote. Aren’t familiar with Sway? It’s a free app from Microsoft. Again, here’s a referral code if you don’t already have a FREE Microsoft account. (Using the code gets you and us a little extra OneDrive storage. Everyone wins!)

black pen making white swish on a blue backgroundOnce you have that FREE Microsoft account, you also will have access to Microsoft Whiteboard which is now web-based if you have an Office 365 account, but is also an Apple app and Windows 10 app/feature which work with personal Microsoft accounts and Office 365 accounts (work/school). Collaborate on boards to write messages, reminders, leave notes for yourself, etc. We use OneNote for holiday shopping lists, but you could also use Microsoft Whiteboard. Follow @ianmikutel on Twitter for helpful tips and updates.

green and white Flipgrid logoIf family and friends are not able to be with you, consider using Flipgrid to create video messages. (Also good for entertaining children! Give them a prompt. Suggestions: favorite family memory, what makes you thankful, why is someone thankful for you, funniest memory from this year, etc. Recently, K tweeted an idea to have kids describe how someone in their family makes their favorite dish during the holidays. When she taught preschool, her school did a similar project for Mother’s Day. A favorite? “My mom makes pizza!” “How does she make it?” “She picks up the phone and calls Pizza Hut!”) It can also be used within Wakelet (Learn about Wakelet later in this post or read our full blogpost on Wakelet.)

Seeing AI - Turning the visual world into an audible experience.Have trouble reading the small print on ingredients? Use Seeing AI (iOS) to have it read to you or scan the barcode to identify the object. Do you have a family member who is having difficulty remembering people? Tap the 3 line icon in the top left to open Face Recognition. Take pictures of family members and label them with their relationship: Carl, your youngest son, or Violet, your granddaughter. When they use the Person feature with faces you’ve entered, it will tell them who is there. Here’s a quick overview of Seeing AI.



A few months after originally writing this post in 2018, we learned about Wakelet and haven’t looked back since. Similar to OneNote, you can use it for a variety of resources. One feature that makes it unique is the collaboration feature. Share a contributor link to allow others (even if they don’t have Wakelet accounts!) to add to a collection. Use it for YouTube videos, family pictures, important files organized by topic, or read our Wakelet blogpost for more incredible ways to use Wakelet, which is web-based, app-based, and FREE!

Need more activities? Create a family secret code using Microsoft Font Maker. Open Excel and create pixel art family portraits or holiday images.


You don't always have to agree with someone, but it should take much effort to be nice.

One thing to remember during the holidays, you don’t always have to agree with someone, but it shouldn’t take much effort to be nice.


PAUSE P-Is it positive? A-Is it accurate? U-Is it understandable? S-Is it spam? E-Is it enlightening? Before you post or send, pause and consider if it is Postive, Accurate, Understandable (check for clarity and accessiblity), Spam (fake news), and is it Enlightening (or Educational)? Consider if it will make a Difference (PAUSED) Will it make things better or worse?If someone upsets you, before responding, think about if whatever you say will make a difference or remember that they may be going through things you don’t know about. PAUSE before responding, whether in person or digitally.



banner with 3 dogs: Filibuster (basset hound) in a Santa hat and green coat "The Original Filibuster" and then Dug, a boxer in reindeer antlers and TeddyRoo, a golden dog with a Santa hat, all in front of presents and a Christmas tree - banner along the bottom "Happy Holidays to All!"

UPDATED October 2019 – Office 365 or G Suite? Windows 10 or Chrome? AND or OR?

Now that I have been in a hybrid district #HybridEdu (Microsoft AND Google) for over a year, I thought it might be a good time to update this post along with updated links and announcements coming out of ISTE 2019 along with a Wakelet collection of comparison charts for various apps to help you decide when to use which app (current charts for Forms, PowerPoint/Slides, and Docs/Word).

Full disclosure: We use Microsoft, Google, AND Apple products, both professionally and personally. Between us, we have multiple certifications in Microsoft and K is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Google Certified Educator (level 2), and Apple Teacher.

For work and home, we use Windows 10 PCs, Surfaces, Macs, iPads, Chromebooks, and have Android phones from Google Fi. (We also use a Google Home, Amazon Echo, Invoke with Cortana, and Siri, but home assistants is a different blogpost.) 

All platforms have their advantages and we respect those who may be devoted to a specific platform or product. We are not paid by any of the companies and/or products we discuss in our blogposts. You will ALWAYS read our honest thoughts and opinions from our personal experiences. 

I (K) read some interesting Tweets with articles that triggered my brain comparing platforms and digital inking. Honestly, I’d love to find a study that compares note taking on a laptop (AKA typing) vs. digital inking (this article compares paper inking and this research compares a laptop to a Surface with digital inking.)

While we understand why districts have purchased Chromebooks ($), G read an article from 2014 which reported that 85% of Chromebooks are in education. His response was that that means only 15% are in the global market. Another article around that time talked about over 60% of the global market using Microsoft. My favorite quote: “In 2016, devices running Android and Chrome made up 23 percent of the mobile market outside the United States, compared with 65 percent for Microsoft’s Windows, according to Futuresource.” (From what I can tell, they define “mobile” as non-desktops, such as laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets.)

This is starting to shift, however, according to Futuresource Consultings’ 2019 report, a recommended read.

purple OneNote logoKids are digital natives and seem to do fine, in my observation, using both, but, to us, Microsoft has OneNote, digital inking in multiple apps, and accessibility features like the Learning Tools with Immersive Reader. (As a former special education teacher, the accessibility alone is a deciding factor.)

It is important to remember that “digital native”, however, does not mean students are automatically fluent in technology, but that is another blogpost. Just because I am originally from the Chicago area does not mean I can make Chicago pizza (but I DEFINITELY can eat it! @LouMalnatis)

Google Keep logo - yellow rounded square with a lightbulb in the middleOn the flip side, Google has Google Keep which can be compared to index cards or sticky notes. I used it with a 4th grade class for research report note-taking because they could rearrange the cards to organize their report. I’ve used Google Earth in combination with OneNote Class notebook.

How do we best prepare our students for a world market? How often do you see “Microsoft Office” in an employment listing? How often do you see familiarity with “Google Suite” listed as a job requirement?

Some articles regarding technology and students that might also interest you:

Schools Must Get the Basics Right Before Splashing Out on Technology and one mentioned earlier: A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop

Both articles discuss how students learn. I loved the lean forward/lean back portion of the first article and found the typing vs. paper note taking interesting in the second. Students can write notes, draw images to help jog memory, and even organize them around (if digital, not paper). In OneNote, that area is unlimited versus paper where you may need to shuffle through a few sheets on a single topic. Plus, you can insert images, videos, PowerPoints, etc., and the search feature is AMAZING! It can even search text IN images that I inserted.

These confirm why we need Office 365 with OneNote AND should try to get touchscreen devices and styluses into ALL students’ hands!

Final thought – In fall 2018, my district added Google and we went hybrid. Here’s what I noticed. Students mostly view them as apps and programs they can choose from, bouncing between them, rather than seeing only one platform or the other. Many adults, however, appear to see it as one or the other, Google vs. Microsoft.

Tweet from Mike Tholfsen @mtholfsen: NEW! Teachers & Students will be able to login & use free @Office365 apps with their Google EDU account 😱 Use G-Suite & Google Classroom along with apps like #OneNote 💜, Immersive Reader, and @MicrosoftTeams #edtech #edchat #ISTE19 #MicrosoftEDU 👉 …BOTH have great things to offer. I am grateful to be in a #HybridEdu district. Mike Tholfsen from Microsoft tweeted incredible news in June, 2019, for those who would like access to both. Microsoft Education announced the ability to log into Office 365 from Google Edu accounts.

(Many other Microsoft EDU announcements came out in June around the ISTE conference. You can view my Wakelet collection which features many, if not all, of them, from Microsoft or my Wakelet collection of the Google announcements.)

Google AutoDraw logo with a pencil outline on a yellow circle and colorful stars around itHave you played with Google Autodraw or had Microsoft OneNote create math practice problems for you? Did you know you can have live captions in Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint?

While we both still lean towards Microsoft because of the accessibility tools like the new mouse pointer options in 1903, Immersive Reader (which they just opened up in June, 2019, to 3rd party apps), and its use in the global market, we see the benefits of choice, allowing students to determine which works best for them as individuals.

Green speech bubble on blackboard background "Ed Tech is an AND, not an OR." - Joe Merrill at Flipgrid Live 6/2019

Feel free to share your thoughts below. We would love to hear the perspective of those outside the education arena (and those within it, too!)

Stay Organized with Microsoft Tools

bride and groom feeding each other wedding cake and smilingIn the past, we’ve posted about wedding planning with Microsoft tools and keeping IEP paperwork organized. Recently, you may have read our post about K’s knee injury (which is still ongoing.)

Over the weekend, G took an unscheduled flight over the handlebars of his road bike due to poor road construction which left soft asphalt with no warning. So, today we visited our chiropractor. (Dr. Stanfield, you are amazing!) She went over exercises, diet, possible outcomes, treatments, etc.  One of the reasons we try to go to medical appointments together is so we have two people hearing the information.

purple OneNote logoTo keep track of everything, we have a shared OneNote notebook. With a medical section, we can keep track of notes from a variety of doctors, P.A.s, and office visits. After both of us were taped (with K feeling like the athlete she never was. haha), we inserted the images so we know how to do it ourselves in the future. We documented G’s bruises and road rash spots. Dr. Stanfield gave us her favorite way to prepare Brussels sprouts and it went straight into OneNote. You can also add Wakelet collections, Sways, and YouTube videos along with many other file types, text, drawing, images, etc. (Watch for a future blog on Wakelet!)

OneNote's Password Protection menu: Add Password, Change Password, Remove Password, Lock Section, Lock All Protected SectionsSections can be password protected, if you prefer to have your information more secure. Also, OneNote is an app, web-based, and software so it is available on any of your devices. K used an iPad and G had his Android phone. We also use it on desktops, laptops, and tablets (yes, Chromebooks, too!).

If you haven’t used OneNote, first of all, it is FREE!!! You will need a Microsoft account (did we mention it is FREE?!) and can use this referral code for extra storage space in your new OneDrive. K made a video on our YouTube channel for those who have never used OneNote.

a small golden puppy and an adult brindle boxer with their mouths on a chew toy on a green grass backgroundWhile OneNote is a rockstar program, it is hardly the only one from Microsoft. We use Excel to track our puppy’s growth. You can use it to track workouts, weight, height (marks on the wall are special, but K moved a lot as a child so a digital version would have been great), and now, if you already have a paper chart, you can take a picture and insert the data into Excel using the Excel mobile app.

Use a shared calendar in Outlook to keep track of appointments with reminders. OneDrive can be used to share files, photos, etc. Did you vacation with others? Create a shared folder for everyone to drop in their pictures!

Need to keep track of business cards? Make sure Office Lens (iOS) (Android) is loaded on your mobile device. It will also read text in your images. Long commute? Take a picture of that article and have Office Lens read it to you using Immersive Reader.

For other great ways to use Microsoft tools, you can follow us on Twitter @GKTechies or for ways geared more towards accessibility, you can follow K @Filibuster3. In fact, check out the translate text video K did for Microsoft as part of their You Can in 90 Seconds series. Check out the full list of quick tips! For the holidays, read how we keep our sanity thanks to Microsoft tools.

Full disclosure: neither of us work for Microsoft nor are we paid by Microsoft. We just find their products accessible, useful, and FREE!!!


E2 Adventures – Part Deux

If you saw my previous blogpost, know that the Global Educator team challenge was just a part of E2.

a group of people at an airport holding a sign E2 Education ExchangeAfter arriving in Paris on Monday, Microsoft Education shuttled us to the hotel and conference center. Our shuttle had a number of us from the USA and others from Greece, Qatar, and Wales. Though many of us were jet-lagged, there was not a quiet moment on that bus! (I apologize belatedly to our driver.) We shared a bit about ourselves, talked about our flights, and discussed non-educational topics, too. I was grateful for Tomos from Wales who helped me understand the difference between American football and Rugby and loved meeting the #eTwinz (Mario and Alberto Herraez) in person since we follow each other on Twitter. Many of us had enjoyed their #Road2E2 videos. I had brought along a number of Disney pins and was overjoyed that the others loved choosing one to take home as we passed the lanyard around.

People posing with photo booth props in front of a sign that says E2 Education ExchangeThat night, the USA team met for dinner at a local restaurant. Luckily, we had a room to ourselves since it got pretty noisy as we ate and talked for hours. Many of us used Microsoft Translator on our phones to help us select our dinner choices. Some had arrived a few days before so we heard about their Parisian adventures and again met many of our virtual PLN (Professional Learning Network) from Twitter.

3 women smiling wearing patriotic clothingFor the Wednesday morning keynote, Team USA sat together, proudly wearing our Flopsie Llama t-shirts (inspired by a teacher’s class project on llamas a few years ago and now our mascot), red, white, and blue sunglasses, and flag bandanas along with other patriotic accoutrements. I loved getting to know Tara,  Michelle, and the rest of the USA team. Special thank you to Robyn for our patriotic goodies!

French performer in a striped outfit in front of a sign that says E2 Education ExchangeThe attendees were entertained by Parisian performers, a pantomime comedian hilariously conducting an invisible orchestra followed by a contortionist. What a way to open! The G in GKTechies watched from home, but commented, “Actually, that’s a good way to open, to get you out of your comfort zone, opening your mind and thinking creatively.”

a man in a tux smiling at a woman in a striped outfit with Education Exchange on the wall behind themThe Power of Humor suggests that laughter can help with creative problem solving. Just what we needed! The full Day 1 keynote is available on the Microsoft EDU Facebook page. Speakers included: Anthony Salcito, Jean Philippe Courtois, Gabriel Attal, Joey Taralson, Hannah Le, and Karey Killian. Karey spoke about moisture damaging books in her libraries. I nudged Tara Gray next to me that Microsoft should get involved. #MindReader Anthony Salcito told Karey that Microsoft employees were delivering books to her libraries! #GreatMoment

woman standing at a wall with a list: In one hour, we'll cover Microsoft social media, Twitter, Activity 1: your profile, Twitter quality check, protect your account, the perfect tweet, Twitter etiquette, Building your network, Twitter search, Twitter lists, Activity 2: Building lists, TweetDeck, Activity 3Incredible morning and then off to sessions. For the first session, I knew instantly which one I would attend: Twitter tips with Marjolein Hoekstra (@OneNoteC) and Lindsay Bayne (@LBayne).  I had the privilege of being one of the hosts for a #MSFTEduChat which is how I met Marjolein virtually (who is an amazing organizer!) and was anxious to meet her in person. So many great tips for using Twitter! Mike Tholfsen (@mtholfsen) shared a tip for iOS (Apple) users to create keyboard shortcuts when you know you will be using a hashtag, or combination of hashtags, often. (See instructions at the end of this blogpost.) For E2, we used #E2 #Road2E2 #E22019 and #MicrosoftEDU.

For the second, I went to a focus group on the Microsoft Educator Community. If you are not familiar with MEC, it is a free website offered by Microsoft filled with tutorials, lessons, and other resources for educators. Did I mention it is FREE?! As Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Fellow Tammy Dunbar would say, “A teacher’s favorite ‘F’ word!”

Sign in with your Office 365 or a personal Microsoft account (also FREE). If you do not have a Microsoft account yet, here is a referral link that also gives you more storage space in OneDrive (cloud storage). You can connect with educators around the world, share your own lessons, and even find Skype in the Classroom activities such as Mystery Skype or discover a guest speaker or virtual field trip to use with your classroom.

a group of people in a room with display boardsNear the end of the day was the Learning Marketplace. Each MIEE (Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert) was asked to share a lesson. We were provided a science fair-like board and a table to display along with many bringing items to give away representing their countries.

board that says Accessibility Tools To Make ANY place the I decided to bring small American flags, Jelly Belly jelly beans, and some Disney stickers. The title on my board was, “Accessibility Tools: to make ANY place the happiest (most accessible) place on earth.” I love Disney and since the USA has parks on both coasts, it seemed an appropriate theme. You can view my accessibility resources in this Wakelet collection. The lesson plan is posted to the Microsoft Educator Community.

Woman wearing a black MergeCube hat and earrings next to a board with a giant MergeCubeFor part of the time, we were encouraged to go visit others. I learned about using Skype for foreign language lessons, the stray dog problem in Costa Rica, saw a fun hat and earrings made out of MergeCubes, Micro:bits, OneNote, sustainable energy, and so much more! We also had a good time visiting with each other. Norway, Switzerland, India, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Ireland, America, Mexico, and other countries all laughing together and enjoying each other’s lessons. Row D was the United Nations!

Smiling people sitting around a table with American flags and water glassesThursday morning opened with another keynote of amazing and inspiring people: Stephane Cloatre, Meredith Roe, Francois Taddei, and Carrie Patterson. I arrived with just a few minutes to spare due to an early morning project that you will read about later on this blog so one of those shadowed heads front and center is mine. I realized that this REALLY makes you pay attention, especially with cameras everywhere!

People looking surprised while standing around a table with a man showing them a computer screenFor the sessions, I participated in focus groups with my favorite moments during Immersive Reader and OneNote. I knew part of what was coming due to a previous conference so I offered to take pictures. Their faces were priceless! I’d love to tell you what we learned, but #ConeOfSilence and #CircleOfTrust. Just know that INCREDIBLE things are coming! Follow @mtholfsen for future announcements.

A group of people in front of a wall that says Winner Creativity Team 46After the second portion of the Learning Marketplace, it was time to clean up for the closing night gala. What a location! We were bussed to Les Pavillons de Bercy for the awards ceremony and if you saw my first blogpost, you will know that my global educator challenge team won the Creativity award for our lesson: Eiffel Tower AccessAbility Investigation. We were yelling and smiling so much that you would have thought we won the lottery.

In a way, we did, we ALL won. We won the connection with educators from around the world with new friendships, the opportunity to be inspired by amazing people and projects, and a few days in Paris that will forever remain in our memories.

Thank you, Microsoft Education, for choosing me as one of the educators representating the United States. To say it was life changing seems too small. I aspire to continue the message of E2 and be a #changemaker and hopefully encourage others to be #changemakers, as well.

Apple iOS keyboard shortcut instructions:

Open Settings. Go to General>Keyboard>Text Replacement. Click the + sign to add text replacement. For example, add as the shortcut gktech and and as the phrase so whenever you type gktech, it turns into  

E2 Global Educator Challenge

2 women in French berets holding up a paper that says Karyn FillhartLast December, this happened:

Thanks to Microsoft Education, I was headed to Paris to attend E2 (Education Exchange) with the theme of ‘Celebrating Changemakers’.

shield shape that says Microsoft at the top then E2 Education ExchangeE2 stands for Education Exchange. Attending this amazing event were 300 educators from around the globe, Microsoft staff from a number of programs and projects, and members of the press. I left invigorated, educated, and inspired.

a table with bottles of water, glasses, and navy blue berets with #MicrosoftEDU on themDay 1: The global educator challenge: Each group was assigned a table with Microsoft Education berets for each of us to wear. These groups were made up of educators from a variety of countries. I was a member of the last group, number 46. As the only woman on the team, I had a few trepidations.

In the days before, we were given our team list and a few of us had connected on social media. Once meeting my teammates in person, my concerns were completely gone. Jacek from Poland, Ronel from the Philippines, Carlos from Peru, and Tao (Jacky) from China all greeted me warmly. Each team had a MIEExpert who had attended E2 before assigned to them in case we had questions. Ours was Ibrahim Aljabri from Saudi Arabia.

Sam O’Leary went over the directions. We would be judged on inclusion, creativity, collaboration, and student voice.

The goal was to create a lesson using Minecraft, OneNote, Teams, and Flipgrid, though we were welcome to use other programs, too. Brainstorming took only a few minutes since we quickly found a concept that was close to my heart and caught the interest of others: Accessibility. The group decided to determine accessibility options at the Eiffel Tower in the areas of hearing, vision, and mobility with the idea that students could then research other Paris locations.

6 people wearing blue berets giving a thumbs up in front a bus that says ParisSoon, we loaded double-decker busses for the tour of Paris. Donning #MicrosoftEDU berets, we had a list of challenges to complete during stops at the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. Step number one: Time for collaboration. I believe it was Ronel’s idea for the group to sing Wheels on the Bus and we decided to invite the other groups to join in. What a surprise that so many knew the song.

people wearing berets smiling in front of the Eiffel TowerNext stop, the Eiffel Tower. With only a short time, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to get to the visitor’s center to look for information so instead we focused on the Flipgrid challenges. These were a lot of fun and included finding someone to speak French (we met a lovely couple and their small children who happily obliged), take a picture of the team with the Tower, and others.

175521050419bd2671315770Back to the bus and on to the Louvre. Again, we hoped to get to the visitor’s center, but it was gated off due to maintenance. Thank goodness for Edge and Bing to research online! When the bus headed back to the hotel, Jacek pointed out a feature in the sidewalks that he felt demonstrated accessibility. I thought I was going to tear up with joy. He was seeing his surroundings with a different lens. (He was also the first to figure out a puzzle I sent the group asking why something in the picture wasn’t accessible. Way to go, Jacek!)

Once back at the conference, it was time to get to work. Work was divided up, but we each continued to support, brainstorm and provide feedback on each other’s contributions.

Microsoft Translator logo with letters on a green backgroundgreen WeChat logo with 2 white speech bubblesOur first hurdle was probably the fact that we spoke 5 languages! The others, fortunately for me, spoke English, though we were prepared to use Microsoft Translator, if needed. We also realized that our plan to use GroupMe for sharing pictures and conversations wasn’t going to work since one team member didn’t have access. However, WeChat was available and without question, the rest of the team quickly downloaded it and set up accounts.

Minecraft Education Edition logoNone of us were Minecraft experts so that was our next hurdle. Jacek eagerly accepted the challenge and set to work teaching himself the program. While I worked on filling out the lesson plan template, Jacky and Carlos worked on a Sway and Ronel researched the Eiffel Tower.

The group learned that there are Eiffel Tower replicas in China so we asked Jacky about them. Ronel then discovered a Wikipedia page that listed replicas around the world. Light bulb and lesson change! The idea would be that the whole class would research the Eiffel Tower in Paris to be followed by collaborative groups researching the replicas allowing for compare and contrast.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Minecraft world would have the Eiffel Tower and an Accessibility Information Center with kiosks for each of the areas (hearing, vision, and mobility). Jacek continued to impress us when he told of the different textured paths for each area, making them easier to follow.

Woman in wheelchair in a crosswalk with a woman and a dog carrying a yellow flag. Title Jacky and Carlos worked on the Sway, searching for images of accessibility successes and failures. Some images made no sense, some were laughable attempts, some horrifying, but others were positive efforts to make sure everyone had access.

We laughed, we high fived, we encouraged, we learned.

green and white Flipgrid logoThe final moments before the deadline arrived quickly and our last task was to create a Flipgrid video summarizing our lesson. Each of us took a part. Then we realized we forgot to include our table sign so I ran to get it while the others practiced their parts since they would not be using their native languages. Again, we recorded the video with a minute left on the clock, hit submit and nothing. NO INTERNET from where we were so we ran, as a group with our computers and phones back into the main work area and VOILA! Success!

Sign in Paris: Liberte - Egalite - Fraternite Republique FrancaiseAfter crashing into our chairs with relief and starting to breathe again, there was nothing to do but wait until the awards assembly that evening when the results would be announced. Early on, I said, “Team 46, last, but not least.” Ronel said that it was, “…last, but best!” Those early trepidations about being the only woman? Hardly! My team had embraced the French national motto of: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Liberty Equality Fraternity.

A group of people in front of a wall that says Winner Creativity Team 46The results for the area of Creativity were being announced. Second runner-up, first runner-up, and the winner is TEAM 46! The joy on the stage was palpable. We had worked hard as a team and had achieved recognition beyond belief. Later, during the gala, the 5 of us gathered to have some fun at one of the photo booths, going home with lasting memories of a night we will never forget.

5 people posing in a photo booth - E2 Education Exchange 2019 #MicrosoftEDUCan women and men work together as equals? Can people from 5 different countries and languages each contribute and collaborate on a lesson?

Team 46 would answer OUI!

Side note: That bus ride around Paris was pretty successful. All 3 teams: 44, 45, and 46 won awards at the gala for their contributions.

Look for another future blogpost about other E2 Adventures!

(Featured image thanks to Simon Johnson @clcsimon.)

Here is a copy of our lesson Eiffel Tower AccessAbility Investigation.

My Adventure with iBooks Author After Using OneNote

2/26/2019 UPDATE: IT IS LIVE! My FREE “book” is now available in the Apple Books store for Mac and iOS. 

Both of us work in educational technology. Because of my (Karyn) background in special education, my passion project is accessibility. In July 2017, I was asked to present at our local Microsoft Store on accessibility tools so I created a OneNote to share.

Bitly analytics Locations: United States 13,808, Canada 522, United Arab Emirates 352, +52 more 686 with a blue circle graph for 15,368 total clicks in the centerThat original OneNote is continually updated and has been clicked over 15,000 times in over 50 countries! (I LOVE analytics! Learn more on our blogpost comparing various URL shorteners. I originally used Bitly, but switched to Delivr.)

However, though we use Windows/Microsoft programs (in addition to Google, Apple, etc.), we realized others might not and so I decided to duplicate the collection into an Apple iBook using iBooks Author.

Purple OneNote logoAfter having used OneNote for the collection for almost 2 years, this was a drastic change. OneNote allows me to drag and drop content. I can easily move pages and sections. If I paste in a YouTube link, the video is automatically embedded. I can right click on images to quickly add alternative text for those who use screen readers. With OneNote, there are draw tools, typing tools, insert features, translation capabilities, and, the icing on the cake, Immersive Reader with the ability to read back what I have typed, translate, highlight grammar, and more.

iBooks cover: First Edition - Focus on Auditory Tools - Filling your Accessibility Toolbelt with Apple, Google, Microsoft and more, collection by Karyn Fillhart Bitmoji in bottom left corner saying Knowledge is Power with brown haired woman wearing glasses sitting at a deskiBooks Author has templates that provide a beautiful book experience. I love the look. However, after the ease of OneNote, iBooks Author is frustrating. To insert video, I have to upload the video file which means downloading files available on YouTube. Since it is a book format, I changed my mind about organization and decided to have a section for various platforms so the Microsoft tools and features would be grouped, the Google, the Apple, etc. No problem in OneNote. Big problem in iBooks Author. Apparently, you cannot move pages around without the tedious copy and paste method.

My goal is still to create an iBook, but I have decided to take it in smaller bites, to create an iBook for individual sections from OneNote. I will be converting the auditory section first with tips for those who may benefit from extra auditory support.

If you have used iBooks Author and have tips, I would appreciate any suggestions! Also, do you have a favorite tool/program for sharing large amounts of information? We’d love to hear about it!

Comment below or DM me on Twitter @Filibuster3 or our joint Twitter account @GKTechies.