To most of us, Microsoft Teams might just seem like another Slack competitor vying for office messaging market share, but in schools it’s proving its to be a revolutionary and transformative tool for classrooms. Those aren’t the words of Microsoft or some Teams spokesperson, but James Yanuzzelli, a social studies teacher hailing from Old Bridge, New Jersey, who is very much on the ground with today’s students.
“I’ve been teaching for almost 15 years now, and this is the greatest product that we’ve started integrating into our classrooms, Yanuzzelli says. “I started a pilot program this year with Microsoft Teams and getting more open education resources into our classrooms, and it’s led to the biggest transformation I’ve seen.”
“We can put assignments through Teams, we can send it out to them where they can receive it and use OneNote in Teams, he says. “I can connect my device to theirs, I can connect my device to a presenter or presentation, and it moves the classroom from me to them.”
In this way, Yanuzzelli feels great about the way Microsoft Teams has shifted the entire classroom from a ‘teacher-centered focus’ to a ‘student-centered focus.’
“Where teaching first started as ‘I’m the teacher, I’m going to stand and deliver you guys sit and learn,’” Yanuzzelli describes. “Now, it’s here’s the Declaration of Independence, let’s break it down [as a group]. They can break it down and put it into subsections, they can work together, and now it’s really an exercise. It’s not just remembering and regurgitating the facts.”
Yanuzzelli also sees his students as being more self-driven then ever and often welcomes students to personalize the curriculum.
“Let’s bring in sports, Minecraft and everyone’s playing Fortnite, so let’s talk about Fortnite,” he says. “Kids can really change the entire lesson, because it’s not just an one-size fits all. It’s now let’s see how we’re doing and how we can relate this to our lives.”
Bird’s eye view
As a teacher, Yanuzzelli says Microsoft Teams lends him more accountability to see how his students are doing and progressing.
“Giving students a voice and choice in what they do is great, but still at the end of the day I still see how they pull it all together,” he says.
“Can they still articulate their thoughts, so once they do cover the declaration?” Yanuzzelli poses the scenario. “Can you explain it in your own way and how can we bring it to present it to me?”
With this sort of bird’s eye view perspective, Yanuzzelli says he really can’t miss anything on his end, as he can literally see everything his students are working on.
“I can pull up every student to see what they’re working on, how they’re working collaboratively and what [each] student posted, he says.”It’s all there and we don’t have to worry about where it went or losing it.”
Sorry kids, the classic ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuse doesn’t work with Microsoft Teams.
Beyond the screen
You might think that, with Microsoft Teams and laptops being introduced into the classroom, students are just looking at a screen all the time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“You have to balance it out,” Yanuzzelli explains. “I don’t want them to get stuck in screen time.”
Yanuzzelli explains that sometimes he’ll break up the class into an agree or disagree session. In this exercise, the students are separated into two opposing ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ sides to discuss a question before going back to Teams to put their thoughts together.
“We still need to get our blood flowing, move around, interact and be personable because that’s the skills we have to carry,” he says. “We need to have our 21st century skills, but also the soft skills of talking and working together face-to-face.”
“Just everyday it’s a new experience for me and them – it’s awesome.”