This week marks the 87th annual Scripps Spelling Bee, and I get a bit nostalgic as I think back to my own memories of “Bee Week.” I’m a former Bee contestant, having competed in the National Spelling Bee in 1998 and 1999 when I was in middle school. Now I’m a program manager on the Skype team at Microsoft, and I was thrilled to hear that Microsoft is sponsoring the event as the first-ever technology champion. Last night, during the opening ceremony of the Bee, the spellers got an extra special gift from Microsoft—each of the 281 participants was given a brand new Surface device and Office 365 to recognize the tremendous effort and dedication it took to advance to the National Spelling Bee.
Every year, I still watch the Bee on TV– I’ll definitely be tuning in to ESPN for the championship finals tomorrow evening! In addition to trying to spell along, I remember all of the excitement and anticipation of my experience up on stage.
I learned valuable lessons about perseverance and thinking on my feet, but my most cherished memories are of meeting other spellers, some of whom I keep in touch with even today. We did our best to stay connected back then, but it was a few years before video calling and texting became common.
Since the Scripps Spelling Bee is now a truly global event with participants hailing from all over the world and technology has made great strides since I was at the Bee, today’s spellers have the advantage of the Skype app (which I help develop!) on their Surface devices, where they’ll be able to chat and video call for free—perfect for word study sessions and catching up. I’ve also helped arrange for every speller to receive a Skype gift card that can be used for calling and texting mobile phones. That way, everyone will be able to maintain the new friendships they’ve formed, no matter where their friends are located around the globe.
Here at Microsoft, we have developed classroom specific offerings because we know that learning technology works better when it’s customized to meet the needs of teachers and students. One example is Skype in the classroom, a free online community that makes it easy for teachers around the world to go beyond the four walls of their classrooms to collaborate with other teachers, to invite guest speakers to share their experiences and to take their students on virtual field trips – without leaving their classrooms. Another service that creates the best possible environment for students is Bing in the Classroom, providing ad-free, safer, more private search in schools, daily lesson plans, and a rewards program to earn free Surface tablets for schools. Devices are another key part of success in the classroom, so we’ve worked with our partners to make low-cost devices available to schools around the country. At Microsoft, inspiring young people through technology is core to what we do, and our YouthSpark programs support teachers, parents and communities by empowering our leaders of tomorrow.
I wish every speller the very best of luck and encourage them—no matter what happens up on that stage—to take the time to enjoy their full Bee experience. Be sure to practice on the new Windows 8 spelling app, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made; I’ll never forget peritonitis (which knocked me out of the competition in 1998) and pergelisol (in 1999)!