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Top 5 back-to-school tools for creation, collaboration and communication

Today’s post was written by Dianne Krause, instructional technology specialist and coach in Wissahickon School District. Dianne is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator expert and master trainer and a professional learning specialist for the Northwest Council for Computing in Education (NCCE).

The school year is off and running! Along with the preparation of bulletin boards, seating charts, classroom procedures and syllabi, it is also important for teachers to consider the go-to digital tools and resources they will rely upon throughout the school year. The five tools and resources outlined below can be utilized by teachers and students in many different classroom settings, grade levels and subject areas for creation, communication, collaboration and so much more.

Tool #1—OneNote and OneNote Class Notebook

As an instructional technology specialist in support of a 21st-century teaching and learning one-to-one laptop initiative, OneNote is part of my daily life, both in and out of school. Teachers, students and administrators in my district view OneNote as the backbone of our initiative and our digital educational lives. OneNote is the primary organizational tool in my school when it comes to the “business” of school through faculty manuals, collaborative project and lesson planning, data collection and team meeting notes.

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WMS faculty manual OneNote Notebook

For teaching and learning, OneNote serves as a digital binder that pulls together all curricular materials and student work. But that is just the tip of the iceberg to what OneNote and OneNote Class Notebook can do in your classroom. Teachers can deliver engaging and interactive content easily and efficiently to their students using the built-in Content Library. Students can then pull the teacher-created pages into their own section of the notebook to complete work, annotate text, insert images, link notes and draw with digital ink. A great feature of the Class Notebook is that the teacher has immediate access to all student work in their individual sections and can provide on-going, detailed and specific feedback to each student privately, through text, ink, audio or video recording. Class Notebooks also have a Collaboration Space through which all students and teachers with access to that notebook can collaborate, communicate and create together. OneNote really is the ultimate classroom tool!

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Example of a Class Notebook

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OneNote Collaboration Space

Be sure to check out to learn about OneNote and its use in school—and don’t forget—OneNote is free on all devices!

Tool #2—Office Mix

Whether you teach kindergarten or AP Calculus, or anything in between, Office Mix is for you. Office Mix is a free add-in to PowerPoint through which teachers and students can enhance and amplify their presentations to add interactivity and engagement. Office Mix offers voice and screen recording, digital ink annotation, video embedding, polling capabilities and content creation. Delivery is not only easy and efficient, but highly motivating to the end users—the students! In addition to the polling and questioning apps, there is a large variety of third-party apps, including Khan Academy, CK-12 and PhET, which can be searched and easily embedded into the Mix. That’s just the beginning though! Once the students go through the Mix and complete the embedded activities, teachers can view the analytics and data tied to the Mixes at a variety of levels. Teachers have the ability to view data by slides, visitors or exercises and drill down to the student level. At the student level, they can view how long each student remained on each slide and their responses to the questions posed. Talk about data-driven instruction! Although Office Mix is an excellent tool for any classroom, many educators believe it is THE ANSWER for the flipped or blended learning environment. Also remember, it’s not just for teachers! Students too can get “in the mix” to demonstrate their learning or teach a new concept to their classmates and ask questions of them to see if they were listening!

To get Office Mix visit, and to learn more about using it in your classroom, visit

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Office Mix ribbon

Tool #3—Sway

As the newest member of the Office suite, Sway has swept me away with its ease of use and beautiful end result. In just minutes, teachers and students can create stunning visual presentations with a unique web URL that can be easily shared for viewing or collaboration. By adding interactive content such as photos, videos, audio files, Twitter feeds, charts, documents and maps, students can easily demonstrate their learning and present their thoughts and ideas without having to spend a lot of time on the presentation itself. Don’t let the ease fool you though; there are many choices to choose from for different colors, fonts, layouts and navigation. In fact, Sway will suggest colors based on the images you have chosen, and there is a handy “Remix” button that randomizes the layout, colors and fonts for you. As it is web-based, Sway embraces the power of the Internet and automatically provides suggested search results to help you find relevant images, videos and other content. There is no need to leave Sway to find the content you want and need. Since Sways can be easily shared and are designed to look great on any device, they are a great way to share student learning with parents and faculty.

Don’t miss the new Sway tutorial videos and start Swaying today!

Tool #4—Skype

How have you connected your classroom with the world? With Skype and Skype in the Classroom, it is easier than ever to connect your students with other teachers, classrooms, experts and projects to help break down the walls of your classroom to bring the world in. Not sure where to start? Play Mystery Skype with another classroom from somewhere around the world. It is a fun and easy way to get started with Skype and provide global opportunities for your students.

Tool #5—Microsoft Educator Network

Learning and using tools and resources from tutorials and websites is an awesome way to be a lifelong learner, but learning from and with others is the true hallmark of a 21st-century educator. The Microsoft Educator Network provides today’s educators access to a plethora of resources, including hot topics blogs, discussion communities, professional development courses, quick tip videos, tutorials, learning activities and opportunities for educators. In addition, the Microsoft Educator Network provides access to a host of free Microsoft tools and resources and the Bing in the Classroom daily lesson plans based on the Bing image of the day. Join the Microsoft Educator Network today!

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Microsoft Educator Network provides free tools for teachers.

You can follow me on Twitter, read my blog or visit my website and Sway. I would love to hear how you are using these and other Microsoft tools to impact creation, collaboration and communication this school year!

—Dianne Krause

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