Microsoft Education

Learning Tools and Accessible Technology

This summer I want to better understand “what” accessible technology is and “how” it works to promote student learning. What I am discovering about accessible technology embedded in Office 365 is creating a “poof, my mind is blown” moment. Over the last few school years, I have watched in awe how the Immersive Reader within Learning Tools has developed into a powerful tool for students.

My goal is to prep lessons that purposefully teach students how to use these accessible technology tools to become better science writers. In my school I collaborate with our humanities teachers to coordinate cross-curricular lessons to provide a purpose and audience for scientific claims and conclusion writing. The challenge is, as with any class or grade level, how to best help struggling students and provide the supports and strategies they need to succeed in writing their content in a coherent format for others to understand. I believe students often know what they want to say but get bogged down with where to start or how to format — even how to edit what they produce is beyond their scope.

Accessible Tools for Learning

There are a variety of accessible technology tools available to teachers and students, including Dictation, the tool I’m using right now to write this blog. To use dictation, you need to click on the dictate button located on the upper right ribbon in Word and in OneNote. Once recording, you just speak what you want to write. There is a slight lag with speech to text, but that is to be expected, and it is easy to understand and use as a means to get words onto paper.

Using the Read Aloud speech button, located in the Review ribbon, is a great way to have a written passage read back to the author. Students who listen to their own written work can hear errors or omissions in their writing, thus helping them to become their own peer editor.

Using Researcher, students can quickly search a topic for relevant research. Researcher can be found in the References ribbon. Upon a quick search on ‘accessible and assistive technology for learning,’ I found a variety of abstracts to read and reference (Marino, Tsurusaki, & Basham, 2011) (Meyer, 2016) (Williamson-Henriques, 2013) (Flanagan, Bouck, & Richardson, 2013). Additionally, I was able cite my resources in text and create a bibliography. *Please note – the references cited here are to show the ease of researching and citing sources, not necessarily for promoting the science studied within the research cited.

All in all, the benefits and ease these accessible learning tools provide is immeasurable. This fall, I plan to take time throughout the school year to introduce and use these tools to foster student communication skills. Students who utilize these learning tools within the context of explaining scientific content will have a better chance of learning and understanding our science topics.

Class of 2030 and AVID Digital Teaching & Learning

Accessing learning tools is not just for students, teachers need to learn how to use and teach how to access these learning tools as well. I am excited AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is paving the way to help educators learn which digital tools are best suited for their class and how to teach these digital skills that will help students leverage and meaningfully use technology in school and life (AVID, 2018). Ultimately the teacher, classroom routines, and learning strategies are first and foremost in building student understanding and comprehension, but adding in digital tools can foster accelerated student ownership of their own learning.AVID Digital Badge

For more information regarding AVID DTL, go to AVID’s Digital Teaching and Learning 

Recently Microsoft Education published a “Class of 2030” Report, which looked at research detailing how technology can support today’s kindergartners’ educational journey towards graduation. The report focuses on how incorporating technology in our classrooms today will help students bridge the knowledge gap they may face in their future work world.

 “Within that context, we found 2 core themes: social emotional skills and personalized learning. Whilst not new in education, these are newly important for more people. Employers are placing a premium on social skills and emotional literacy with up to 40% of future jobs requiring explicit social emotional skills. Academics are noting their impact on deep learning and the students themselves recognize these skills are critical for success. The research highlighted personalized learning as an approach which supports skill development — both cognitive and social and emotional by guiding students towards greater autonomy and control.”

Class 2030 NotesRead more about the Class of 2030 Report at “The class of 2030 and life-ready learning: The technology imperative.”

The bottom line is teachers who teach how to use accessible learning tools provide students the autonomy to learn. Giving students the tools they need to amplify their voice and share their knowledge, whether it is in science class or beyond, builds deep learning and confidence. Teaching teachers how to use these digital tools can foster a classroom of personalized student learning. I have summarized just a few of the accessible tools for students and teachers. For more information and teacher stories, go to Microsoft Education Stories or reference the Microsoft Educator Community for your own personalized educator learning.


AVID. “AVID’s Digital Teaching and Learning.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Mar. 2018,

Flanagan, S., Bouck, E. C., & Richardson, J. (2013). Middle School Special Education Teachers’ Perceptions and Use of Assistive Technology in Literacy Instruction. Assistive Technology, 25(1), 24-30. Retrieved 7 13, 2018, from

Holzapfel, Barbara. “How Can Technology Empower the Class of 2030? |.” Microsoft EDU, 24 May 2018,

Marino, M. T., Tsurusaki, B. K., & Basham, J. D. (2011). Selecting Software for Students with Learning and Other Disabilities. The Science Teacher, 78(3), 70-72. Retrieved 7 13, 2018, from

Meyer, L. (2016). 4 Ways Teachers Are Learning to Use Technology to Benefit Students with Special Needs. T.H.E. Journal Technological Horizons in Education, 43(2), 19. Retrieved 7 13, 2018, from

Williamson-Henriques, K. M. (2013). Secondary Teachers’ Perceptions of Assistive Technology Use for Students with Learning Disabilities. Retrieved 7 13, 2018, from






1:1 Now What? – Presenting at ISTE 2018

As I head into the last month of school I begin to think about what I will work on this summer to improve my classroom next year. Teaching and learning are always connected, to improve our teaching skills we must continue to be learners ourselves.

I’m looking forward to presenting and learning at ISTE in Chicago this year. I’m sure it will be a whirlwind of excitement and a cacophony of greetings with a wealth of warm exchanges while meeting new educators from around the country.

This year I will be presenting with my colleague, “We’re 1:1, Now What? Maximizing Student Learning in 1:1 Environment.” We look forward to sharing what we have learned utilizing the digital advantages of 1:1 devices in our classroom and also how to manage student distractions from being online. As a Microsoft Showcase School, we are familiar with being on the cutting edge of educational technology and the wealth of opportunities it can bring for student and educator communication and collaboration. We are also keenly aware that working in a digital environment with students takes classroom management skills and tools to make lessons run smoothly with technology being the digital accelerator to learning.

International School – Bellevue WA 

To learn more about our ISTE 2018 session –

Modeling Living on Mars in Minecraft

Last semester my high school biology class wrapped up a Mars Biosphere Project. For the project, my students had to build their understanding of basic biology concepts and then create a sustainable biosphere on Mars showcasing and applying their new-found knowledge. The lesson plans for this project were created by a few amazing district high school science teachers who wanted to provide students an opportunity to extend and apply their biology learning. My students’ task for this project was the following:

Mars Explorers NASA

Mars Biosphere Project

Your task is to work with your team to design a suitable habitat for four young adult astronauts to survive on the surface of Mars for 3 months.

You will be provided with:

  • Oxygen for 30 days (1 month)
  • Water for 30 days
  • A menu of protein-rich space meals to supplement food production
  • Nutritional requirements for colonists
  • A menu of seeds to choose from
  • Building materials to create an enclosed habitat
  • Space-gear for short exposure
  • Materials for circulation pump (with motor)
  • Heating unit for habitat

If you have a request for additional materials, check with your mission commander (teacher).  Space aboard ship is limited! 

Over the course of a semester, we covered the basics of earth -v- mars atmosphere and geology as it applies to what plants require to live. Next, we conducted labs to better understand what happens to CO2 and O2 levels in living organisms, ultimately leading to conceptual understanding of photosynthesis. Since my students would be creating a biosphere, they also had to build their understanding of matter and energy, particularly as it applied to cellular respiration. Through various labs and molecular modeling, my students built a solid biology background from which to build a 3D Biosphere model.

The requirements for the biosphere project tasked students with explaining in detail how they would create a sustainable environment–covering both physical and physiological requirements–for the astronauts in a Martian environment.

Mars Biosphere Project Requirements:

  • Schematic or diagram of your Martian Biosphere
  • A sample diet for one person for one day, balanced with appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and other nutrients
  • Number & type of plants, source of water & nutrients for plants
  • Explanation of how your Biosphere will be able to support 4 people for at least 90 days

A majority of my students’ groups chose to work in Minecraft, finding their own familiarity with Minecraft made it easy to create and collaborate with their group to build a model biosphere. One group decided to work in Paint 3D for the biosphere model and were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the app for creating their 3D world. Occasionally students had class time to work on their 3D biosphere designs and overhearing their working conversations was awesome. Students would discuss the validity of the spaces they were creating, whether there was sufficient gas exchange for CO2 and O2, and if their biosphere could support the necessary farming to provide the nutrients per their scheduled astronaut diet. They also discussed, or more aptly “vigorously debated,” the aesthetics of their biosphere design. Building in 3D provided the authentic venue to discuss the science underneath the project learning and that made this biology teacher smile.

Providing opportunities to learn framed within an authentic learning project is critical to asking students to go behind the route memorization. The Mars Biosphere Project had a variety of variables to solve and students had to provide evidence that they understood the biology to sustain the astronauts for 3 months on Mars. Utilizing Minecraft (or Paint3D) for creating a 3D model of the biosphere gave an opportunity for essential conversations to better understand the biology concepts.


Click for Mars Biosphere – Minecraft Student Tour

The best part, from a teaching perspective, is teachers don’t necessarily need to be Minecraft experts to provide an opportunity for students to use their expertise in Minecraft to showcase their learning.

Over the course of the Mars Biosphere Project, my students used the following tools and applications;

Connected Classroom – ISTE 2017

In a few weeks my colleague and I will traveling to San Antonio to present at ISTE.

We’re excited to share how we utilize classroom technology in a 2 hour poster session. We’ll share how OneNote, Microsoft Classroom (now Microsoft Teams for Education), and Class Policy helps to foster student collaboration and conversation.

Connected Classroom: Digital Conversations & Collaboration with Microsoft Classroom & Class Policy

Monday, June 26, 2:00-4:00 pm
HBGCC Tower View Lobby, Table 24

Cheryl McClure and  Tamara Truax
Learn how to utilize Microsoft Classroom and Class Policy to foster online student conversations, OneNote for lesson collaboration and connected assignments in Outlook. Suitable for those already familiar with OneNote but accessible to all as an introduction to the collective collaboration of a central digital space for connected learning.

ISTE sessionConnected Classroom