“The distance between our classroom and the real world has never been shorter and corresponds to what 21st century skills actually are all about — preparing our students for what’s to come.” – Jerker Porat, Sweden

When we held the Windows 8 App-a-thon at London’s BETT Show earlier this year, we knew we would witness some impressive innovation, and we weren’t disappointed. As one of 21 educators competing in the two-day boot camp, Swedish teacher Jerker Porat brought his physics lab tool app to the workshop, and in the process, worked with and learned from colleagues from all over Europe.

Today, we want to share some of the behind-the-scenes excitement from this special event, through Porat’s thoughts as he prepared to attend the Windows 8 App-a-thon final in London. You’ll find his enthusiasm inspiring, and learn a little bit about how TouchDevelop enables teachers to easily build apps suited for the particular needs of their students. Enjoy!

“The lift off is just hours away… On Monday morning, I will meet up with 20 of my colleagues at Microsoft GB in London. My colleagues are from all over Europe and the reason why we are meeting in London is because we share a passion for technology and education.

It all started a few months ago when 50 teachers were selected to be a part of a Virtual University Class and we learned to program applications in a software called TouchDevelop. Our teacher and TouchDevelop guru, Peli de Halleux taught us how to program simple applications for Windows 8 during three virtual universities. After we finished the course, we sent mock ups of our dream apps, because we, the students, could compete for 21 places in the App-a-thon finale where we, together with coaches, could make our dream application come true. During the VU-part of this ‘competition’ there were several questions popping in our heads and one of the participants, Bram Faems, an educator from Belgium, created a forum at http://www.pil-network.com. It was a gift from above, a place where we could discuss ideas and get help on problems we encountered when we did our ‘homework.’

The software we used to create our apps, TouchDevelop, has a text/symbol interface that is very touch-friendly and it can be used on many different devices to program apps. Do you know about Kodu, the little green blob that students program using a symbol-based program language? If not, have a look here. TouchDevelop is the most logical step for students to make when they grow a little older and want to do a little more advanced programming.

As a teacher, I’m thrilled with the possibility TouchDevelop gives me to make my own, tailor-made applications that I can use in my classroom. For my students, who will be the hard-working generation of the 21st century, this also gives them the possibility to increase their value in the job market and in their future careers by learning to work with something that really is related to the world outside the classroom. Lately, I have been thinking of how much a student produces during their years in the classroom. It’s overwhelming to think about it, and how little — if at all – that work is shown in the public arena. So, one of many other things I have been doing is trying to make my students’ work visible in society. I have been doing this by using QR-codes. My students are doing research in some subject closely related to the society they live in and then publish it on a domain I own. What I really like with this programming is that the students can practice their programming skills by doing educational or ‘just for fun’ games and apps, and then publicize them to a commercial website where others can download them and use something a student has been doing as a school project. The distance between our classroom and the real world has never been shorter and corresponds to what 21st century skills actually are all about — preparing our students for what’s to come.” – Jerker Porat

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I had a teacher who inspired me and that’s one of the reason I became a teacher myself (see next question). I’m also a sucker for knowledge and I often win knowledge-based board games like Trivial Pursuit when playing with friends. Knowledge gives birth to other knowledge and the more you learn about something, you soon discover that there is much more to learn. Sooner or later you might see that everything is connected and that deepens your knowledge. I want to give that same feeling to my students, that knowledge is an exciting thing.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

My physical education teacher when I was 13 to 16 years old, Per Andersson. I don’t really remember why he became my favorite teacher. It might have been because he was my teacher in P.E., which was my favorite subject or just because he had a gentle and good hand with the students. Later on, during high school, I had a teacher in physics, and he always told us what was important to learn.  He stood in the classroom with his hands raised and said, “My friends, if you understand this, you have understood the core of physics.” He said that quite often so when I look in the mirror, I understand that it was his way of saying that we, the students, are important and we are about to see something quite amazing and important and that woke us up and made us stand on our toes.

When I went to University, I had professor Mats-Olof Mattson as a lecturer for several courses in cell biology. Even though he was a very well known professor, he always cared about the students and he sometimes had lunch and sat with the students during breaks. He took every question seriously and addressed the whole class with the answer so everyone in the lecture hall got the same picture of the question and the answer.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

Colleagues now see the computer as an educational tool and not something they have to fight against.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

As soon as new technology turns up, I try to implement it in my job as a teacher. It’s important that we use modern technology in our schools for many reasons, and one of the first is to prevent technological differences between social classes in society. Everyone in our society has the right to use technology as an instrument during their childhood to increase their “market value” when they finish school.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

Actually, the touchdevelop.com interface is one of the most exciting things right now. It’s easy to learn and when you have gained knowledge in how to use it, you can create tailor-made apps that suit just you and your school. It’s also the perfect next step for students who have been playing with Kodu in the younger ages.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

Collaboration, because we live in a global society where other countries and cultures are only one Skype-call away. By learning from other cultures we gain knowledge about them and our tolerance and understanding grow. Collaboration also gives students a much wider perspective of what they learn in school and they can sort the knowledge into concrete examples. I also mean that collaboration also gives birth to the other competences listed above. For example, how many collaborative projects have been successful without communicative skills?

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Last time I was in this blog, I said that it should be a tool that gives everyone the rights to unfiltered and uncensored information. So, for the second most important thing, I think that every child should have their own mentor, someone they can trust and share special moments with, and who can tell them what’s right and what’s wrong.

 About Jerker Porat

  • Birthplace: Örebro, Sweden
  • Current residence: Örebro, Sweden
  • Education: Örebro University
  • Website I check every day: www.na.se, www.aftonbladet.se www.idg.se
  • Person who inspires me most: Richard Branson
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): London, BETT Show and Appathon
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I’m a happy person and I laugh quite a lot.
  • Favorite book: Tech thrillers by Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy.
  • Favorite music: Don’t really have any but I use to listen to 90´s century indie pop and hard rock like Iron Maiden and Metallica.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: It’s never too late.

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