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  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    The Best Piece of Software for Education Ever?


    Have Microsoft inadvertently created the best software application for education ever? I think so. And you may, too, after reading this.

    Think of a piece of paper, the ordinary A4 stuff you use in the classroom. Currently paper allows you express yourself through writing and drawings. You can fold it to create an origami swan or a paper airplane. Or perhaps you could crumple it up and throw at someone, in an expression of frustration. Even though paper is somewhat limited in the ways it can be used, it has allowed the greatest minds in history to communicate their thoughts and views -- and these throughts and views have changed the world. (See what could be called the greatest bits of paper ever at the British Library.)

    imageNow imagine if paper were smart. What if you could not only write and draw but could also have your handwriting converted to text and record speech and video directly onto a page? Imagine if you could search everyone on your pieces of paper -- even the audio and video files-- for keywords. What if you could link pages to other pages? Share and work on a piece of paper with anybody, anywhere in the world? Capture images and text from any application or website? And what if all of your work was then saved automatically and stored in one file.

    What ideas would we be able to develop if all this were true?

    I know this all sounds to good to be true. Yet, Microsoft OneNote 2007 does all of this and more. I am not blogging about this from the point of view of someone in product development. I have used OneNote in my teaching and it revolutionised the way I could let my 10-11 year-olds work and learn. 

    I am absolutely bewildered that I have still not seen the comprehensive use of OneNote in schools the UK. Is it that I have been looking in the wrong places? Is it a perception that OneNote is an application for tablet PCs? I used it on ordinary desktop PCs and laptops, and it is fantastic on an Interactive Whiteboard. OneNote will even install a version of itself on Windows Mobile devices such as PDAs and Smartphones.

    Is it that you think you have to go out and buy OneNote? If your school has Microsoft Office, chances are you already have OneNote. And if your school is concerned about its carbon footprint, as many are these days, using OneNote can reduce the amount of paper you use and the amount of photocopying you do.

    The Microsoft Office and Learning Styles Community on Innovative Teachers Network has a wealth of information, videos and links about OneNote and its use in education. A good place to find out more is by reading the MS OneNote blog.

    If you can't believe that all of this could be possible in one product, try Microsoft OneNote for yourselves. Download a trial version here.

    From my own experience using OneNote, I honestly feel its has education at its core and is the ideal tool for teachers, pupils and students to utilise and develop 21st century skills. But if I'm wrong, tell me. Have you tried MS OneNote and agree or disagree with me? Are you using MS OneNote and have some great ideas you would like to share?

    In this world of digital lifestyles, isn’t it about time the exercise book caught up?

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Vienna…this means nothing to me!


    Those of you who are old enough to remember the words of Midge Ure will get this. For those who aren't - or are American, like Kristen - stay with me here, and all will be made clear. image

    From our previous posts you will have read about two lucky and talented teachers from the UK who attended the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum. Their journey to this event started a year ago, when they entered their Virtual Classroom Tours into the UK Innovative Teachers Forum. Their VCTs, along with those from four other teachers, were judged to be some the most innovative uses of technology to support teaching and learning. They were invited to represent the UK at Microsoft's European Innovative Teachers Forum in Zagreb. And, as Dan and Peter were both award-winners in Zagreb, they were then invited to attend the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Hong Kong.

    In the months since this process began, I have had the opportunity to visit both Dan and Peter's schools and have seen that many teachers in both places are a part of bigger projects around school transformation. Some, through leading communities of professional development using the Innovative Teachers Network, have become thought leaders in that process. During this time I have seen some outstanding and innovative work in transforming teaching and learning, much of which is posted as VCTs on the Innovative Teachers Network. And if these two schools are any indication, I know that there are many more amazing ideas and practices out there, just waiting to be shared.

    Now is YOUR chance to participate. If last year's Forum was anything to go by, this year promises to be even better, so it is with much anticipation that I am pleased to announce that the next the UK Innovative Teachers Forum will be held on 20th February 2009.

    Full details of how to enter can be found in the UK Innovative Teachers Forum 2009 community on the Innovative Teachers Network . But before you rush off and send us your learning activity, take a step back and look at your current practice. What activities and learning opportunities have you created with and for your students? Which of those would you share to allow other teachers to improve their current practice? How would describe your projects to others? Keep in mind that you could be sharing your learning activity with a worldwide audience.

    Closing date for submissions is the 1st February 2009. The submitted entries will be assessed based on criteria that is described in detail on the ITN. The creators of the 10 best VCTs will be invited to Microsoft UK Headquarters in Reading for an award ceremony and a day of learning and collaboration. And in March, Microsoft will be bringing four of the teachers attending the UK event to Vienna to present their work at the European Innovative teachers Forum.

    It's quite possible, then that in March 2009, Vienna may mean something to you other than just an annoying tune from the 80's...

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    England gets new a coach!


    This isn't actually about football,but it made you look, didn't it?

    Now that we have your attention, think about this. Have you ever had a question about how to use a piece of technology in school? Have you ever tried to look online for a really great technology-rich learning activity to use with 27255.jpgyour class? Do you ever find that when you have a question about using technology in your teaching, you can't get an answer when you need it?

    If you answered yes to any of those questions, you're not alone, and we may have help. Coaching and mentoring are two terms that are being thrown around a lot in UK education these days. Many local authorities provide mentors for newly-qualified teachers, and organisations like the SSAT offer courses in coaching. And, let's be honest, almost every teacher acts as a coach at some point in his or her career - it's just what you do.

    Microsoft has something a bit different to add to the coaching repertoire in the UK. Our Peer Coaching curriculum, which is currently being used in 44 countries around the world and was a finalist in last year's Stockholm Challenge awards, is - surprise, surprise - technology focused. It trains teachers to be coaches who can help other colleagues in their schools integrate ICT into classroom learning activities and improve lesson design. Once a teacher is trained to be a coach, he or she works with a number of teachers each year to train them as well, thereby creating a support system for all teachers in the school who want to get better at using ICT in their teaching.

    This week, we're holding our first training for the facilitators in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These are the folks who will work with local authorities or partners to train coaches over the course of the next year.

    If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to go to the Peer Coaching section on the Innovative Teachers Network to learn more about it. We're looking for schools and teachers who want to be involved in this programme, and we will be holding trainings for coaches over the course of the next year. This is your chance to get involved!

    Feel free to contact Stuart or me if you have any questions.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    We have a winner!


    Microsoft's worldwide Innovative Teachers Forums are about teachers from all over the world forming a community and working together. More than that, however, they are about celebration. Every teacher that attends these Forums has already won an award in their country or their region, so we're celebrating the best of the best in these worldwide events.

    These teachers have been working hard all week, and are generally exhausted (as we all are) by the time of the big gala dinner. We try to provide them with a real reward for all of their hard work during the Forum week, but we also acknowledge the amazing work they do every day in their classrooms.

    This year's gala dinner was at the floating Jumbo restaurant. Teachers are always dressed in their finest, and this year they were greeted by traditional Hong Kong drummers and costumed dancers before boarding the boat to the restaurant. Teachers were then able to visit a fortune teller, have their name written on a fan in Chinese characters, or get a drawing of themselves by a caricaturist.

    Then dinner began. It was a multi-course Chinese feast full of exotic dishes. Our Vice President Ralph Young gave a short welcome, and soon it was the moment we've all been waiting for - the awards.

    We award teachers in 4 categories: Collaboration, Community, Content and Educator's Choice. For the first three categories, judges score the VCTs and rank them as the best representation of work in each of those areas. The last category is up to the teachers. Each country gets one vote (much like the Eurovision contest...) for one teacher's VCT. There are first, second and third places in each category.P1000548

    Stuart and I were extremely proud of both of our UK teachers, Dan and Peter. The work they're doing is truly amazing, as you've seen in previous posts. We were even more thrilled when the judges agreed with us about Dan's work at his school in Cornwall and awarded him third place in the Content category. All winners received prizes, but as always happens at these events, none of them seemed to care about what they received. They were honoured just to be recognised and amongst such a distinguished group of educators, and they were just as excited for the other winners as they were for themselves.

    L to R in the photo at right: Me, Peter, Dan and Stuart

    It was a great week, and Stuart and I are just about to head home to the UK. We'll have a lot more follow-up on this forum and on some of the teachers we've met in subsequent posts.

    In the meantime, stay tuned to the Innovative Teachers Network for information on how you can get involved in the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Forums, and travel with us to exciting destinations all over the world.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    And the Winners are ………..


    Obama may have won, but there is a far more important competition going on.

    Yes! This is what you have all been waiting for. Who has won the coveted Innovative Teachers Awards?

    So, if you are drinking red wine as you read this post, put your glass down. You won’t want to spill any by leaping with excitement.

    The 96 VCTs presentations have been whittled down to 28 semi-finalists.

    Here are some of my favourites:

    Parimber from India has set his own community on the UK Innovative Teachers Network; he would welcome you joining and contributing any ideas.

    Tom and Kieran are one of two entries from Northern Ireland to make the semi finals. Their VCT involves creating revision materials for GSCE that are shared through mobile phones.

    Eileen, also from Northern Ireland, is a primary school teacher. Her VCT involves one of my favourites things, ‘creepy crawlies’, that she has created with her class.The class has also created a conversation web site to support this work.


    This is my good friend Ousamane from Senagal. He has devised project designed to educate his pupils about the dangers involved in illegal immigration.

    Ronald is from Uganda, where de-forestation is a major concern. He has created series of lessons that educate his students about this issue.
    and finally ………………………………

    Dan Roberts is one of our Teachers from the UK! You've heard about him already here.

    Congratulations, Dan! You are a semi- finalist. Good Luck in tonight’s Gala Dinner.

    Here’s hoping you will win one of the awards.


    You can download all of the Virtual classroom tours of these teachers from the UK Innovative Teachers Network site. You will need to locate the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum community, which can be found under the Communities tab. All the VCTs can be found in a folder in this community called VCT Upload.

    Which ones do think are award-winning?

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Big Ideas and the Big Buddha


    This is no holiday for the Teachers. We make them work hard, but we make sure they have a truly rewarding experience at the same time. Today, the groups of teachers went on IMG_2604their assigned field trips. I joined a lively group, sent to the Po Ling Monastery on Lantau Island. You can see our route here. My GPS tracker, at last, worked. You can see how we travelled by bus to the base of the mountain on Lantau. At that point, we took the cable car up the mountain -- it was either that or a 6-hour walk! It took 15 minutes to reach the summit, this was a great opportunity for the Team to bond and find out more about one Team Photoanother. From here it was a short walk to foot of the 630 steps to the Big Buddha, a huge bronze statue. It is a very impressive sight, as you can see from these photos.

    The purpose of this visit was not only to give the teachers an experience of Hong Kong, but to give them a context on which they could base the learning project they needed to create.The return journey began with loads of enthusiastic conversations about how they might create a project around such an experience. But this was put on hold as a game of ‘wave to perfect strangers in the cable car opposite’ ensued.

    Only the Innovative Teachers Network could bring together teachers from countries like Nigeria, Indonesia, UK, Canada and Ireland and in 24 hours have them sharing and enjoying each others company. After some lunch, the group met and planned their activity. This prompted great debate; there were so many great and innovative ideas, that there was a danger the project would become so huge it could never be completed. But, the group, who call themselves ‘Baby 5’, after the term used by our tour guide, produced a simple project plan which they will implement in their respective schools when they return home. The group have set up a community on the UK Innovative Teachers Network and will use this to communicate and share ideas and resources. When they have finished they will produce a Virtual Classroom Tour, so that other teachers will be able to recreate their project.

    The teachers are looking to produce a collaborative and activity that involves using still images to tell the story of a person that their pupils aspire to be. Pupils will ask questions of each other about their choices. At the end, all pupils will list the characteristics they feel best represent the ideal global citizen .

    I am really interested in how the Innovative Teachers Network can support such a collaborative activity, taking place in place in 5 different countries. I will keep you up to date on their progress, and will challenge you with this question: If you had the chance to work with teachers from across the world, what sort of projects would you undertake? I would be interested to know.


    IMG_2624 IMG_2638    IMG_2681IMG_2686  IMG_2653

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Hong Kong's Innovative Schools


    Stuart and I split up on Tuesday; he joined the teachers on educational excursions all over Hong Kong that I'm sure he'll explain, and I sat in meetings in a hotel ballroom for most of the day. (Not that I'm bitter. Or jealous. Hotel ballrooms are lovely.)

    I did have one opportunity to leave the hotel today, on an organised visit to a school in Hong Kong. As I've mentioned before, visiting schools in other countries is one of my favourite things to do on my travels. I learn more from sitting in classrooms and talking to school leaders, teachers and students than I do anywhere else.

    Today we visited a school called Fung Kai, which is one of the 12 schools in Microsoft's Innovative Schools Programme. (There's one in the UK as here for more information.) Fung Kai is a conglomeration of schools on one campus, with 5000 students in all. It's in the New Territories of Hong Kong, just over the border from mainland China. In fact, many of the students at the school cross the border from China every day to attend school at Fung Kai.

    We visited one of the primary schools, which had been undergoing a period of transformation over the last several years. They were just completing work on a huge new building, have a new technology infrastructure, hardware and software, and have developed a new professional development model for teachers.Class

    After some meetings with the school's leadership, we sat in on an English class of 8 year-olds. Each student had an ASUS EEEPC running Microsoft  Windows, and the PCs were all closed on their tables. The teacher ran very interactive, well-organised lessons using the interactive whiteboard with students, and then divided the children into groups to complete some in-class work.

    This sounds simple, but the context surrounding the activities made it really special. Here's why.

    1. The students actually own these EEPCs and are able to take them home. The school's leadership had engaged with parents to gain their support for the 1:1 programme, and they offered no-interest payment plans to help those less-fortunate parents purchase computers.
    2. All of the children's textbooks and classroom materials are on the computers. The school has made agreements with multiple publishing companies to provide electronic content for various subject areas.Girls It also teaches students about IP and copyright to help avoid piracy.
    3. The classroom management was fantastic. So many times 1:1 implementations fail because parents complain that students are using IM, surfing the net, and not paying attention in class. These students used their computers only when so directed, and boy were they eager to do so! 
    4. The teacher spoke only in English, even when directing students to download and upload files from the class SharePoint. All of the students were able to follow, which was amazing considering that so many of them come from families in mainland China where no English is spoken.

    I wish all of you had had the chance to see and hear these kids today. They were so clearly motivated by the technology and were very adept at using it. Plus they were just adorable.

    Ok, that's more than enough from me...I'm very excited to hear how Stuart and our teachers enjoyed their visits to some of Hong Kong's most interesting cultural spots today...

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    A meeting of Minds and wet feet!


    Monday started early for me. I am still on UK time, so I found myself at 6 am in an open air swimming pool on top of a IMAGE_056skyscraper. Breakfast was amazing; I have never seen such a variety of great food for breakfast. Having filled up on ‘Shark fin‘ dumplings, Peter and I were led on a shopping expedition by Kristen, who assures me that Louis Vuitton never played inside left for Chelsea! However, our exploration of downtown Hong Kong was cut short, by the heaviest rain shower I have ever seen. Subsequently we arrived back our hotel absolutely soaked through. It seems that weather is a UK tradition that Hong Kong still maintains.

    A quick change of clothes and we were ready for the today’s briefing meeting. This is first occasion that the attending teachers get together. Straight away they are eased out of their comfort zones by being assigned to groups with teachers from other countries and are encouraged to find out as much as they can about each other. It's amazing to see how everybody overcomes their initial nervousness and reservations. The whole room suddenly become teachers sharing their experiences, which is fascinating experience.

    The session was lead by Les Foltos from the Puget Sound Center for teaching, learning, and technology. He set the task for each group to create a learning activity based around the field trips planned for Tuesday. These will be made available on the Innovative Teachers Network as soon as we're finished.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    On the road to Hong Kong – The Journey Begins


    IMAGE_050Well, the journey has started for me. Saturday, I left the sunny, but really cold heights of Abergavenny. I arrived in Hong Kong at midday on Sunday (5.00am UK time), to weather that is cloudy and really hot - 32C.

    The team has already begun to meet up, arriving from different parts of the UK. I met Kristen at Heathrow. We were joined by the Irish and Northern Irish group, and - providing an example of the strength of the Innovative Teachers Network - we instantly began talking about our Virtual Classroom tours. At the Hotel, I have caught up with Peter and we are expecting Dan later tonight. All is looking good.

    Since being here I have spoken to many teachers that I have only known through their Virtual Classroom Tours, and this got me thinking: are the VCTs a reflection of more than just the best practice of the teacher who created them? Can they give an insight into some of the wider contexts of the education system of a country? I think they certainly illustrate the approaches to learning that are used to deliver the curriculum. But, do they also reflect where a country is in its thinking of how to use technology to support learning?

    What do you think? You can have a look for yourselves. The VCTs uploaded by the teachers attending this event are all available in the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum – Teachers Community*. In previous posts we have highlighted the VCTs of our two award winning teachers. Do you think their VCTs of ‘Recharge the Battery’ and ‘Spy Academy’ reflect the current thinking on ICT and the curriculum in the UK? We would welcome your thoughts.

    I did promise some ideas of using ‘foolproof’ GPS technology to plot our journey. But, this fool forgot to press the correct button on the GPS gadget, so it didn’t work. I will try again!

    Stay tuned for more from Hong Kong all week long!

    *Note: If this is your first time accessing the Innovative Teachers Network, you will not be able to access the community directly from this link. You'll need to go to and register to create a username and password for the site. Then click the link above (where you'll be prompted for your username and password) to get to the VCTs.

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