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  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    A random act of genius.

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    image Planning is probably the most disliked word in the teaching profession (apart from inspection, that is). From my experience it dominates your time as a teacher. You have a variety of planning to undertake: lesson, weekly, short, medium, long and individual, to name just a few. You have endless planning meetings -- even meetings to plan for planning meetings. Planning can suck the life out of you, and for me (and I suspect many of you), it became a real chore. (Even now, when Kristen calls a ‘planning’ meeting, I break out in a cold sweat.) But I may have found the answer to every teacher’s planning woes: The Random Event Generator created by John Davitt.

    I first encountered John Davitt when I heard him speak at an Innovative Teachers Event held by Saltash.net Community School. I was totally wowed by his ‘off the wall’ style and his thoughts and approaches to learning struck a real chord with me. But it his Random Event Generators that I think are a stroke of genius. A Random Event Generator is an application that image generates a series actions you 'Do' and end products you do them 'As', to help you create an activity for students to undertake. You can get the idea by visiting here. The Do and As activities are  randomly selected from a list. This list is always being added to and updated, so it always worth checking the wiki for future additions. There are a number of different ‘flavours’ of generators, these include the web-based versions on John’s website, a twitter version (follow @raggler), and an iPhone version, still in its early stages of development. I am just not clever enough to adapt these (and I don’t have an IPhone), but there an Excel version, which is fantastic, created by Richard Clarke and available here. The Excel version enables you to very easily change the DO and AS lists. I have been using it to make generators that focus on different activities for teachers at our recent Innovative Teachers forum in Vienna and at meeting of primary school teachers in North Wales. It also means you can create lists that have a specific focus and context, such as for a subject, theme or revision. Here are some examples generated for a science theme day.

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    I think these Learning Event Generator have a real place in developing 21st century skills and thinking in the curriculum, but here’s a real scary thought: What if you could use Random Event Generator to plan a week’s teaching. Could it be done? Would it be productive? I don’t know the answer, but how exciting would that be? Maybe a week or even a day is not feasible, but I think some lessons could be created around using Random Event Generators. Once exam pressures are out of the way, it may be a good experiment to try with your students.

    You can find out lots more about John Davitt’s thoughts and ideas at his website, www.newtools.org and his blog. I would also strongly suggest you get hold of copy of his book ‘New Tools for Learning’, as it will challenge the way you think about learning.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Spring Makeover for the Innovative Teachers Network

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    It’s that time of year again. You are looking in your wardrobe and last year’s fashion and nothing fits --everything seems to have shrunk over the winter! Surely I haven’t put on that much weight, you think! Then you realise how dusty and tired looking everything is. So before you know it, you're shopping, buying new clothes, dusting, painting and generally giving everything a spring clean.

    Kristen and I have felt the same way latley, so we've put on our virtual aprons and picked up our digital dusters and given the UK Innovative Teachers Network (ITN) site a good spring clean.

    First, we have completely refreshed the welcome page of the site. Now when you sign in to the site, not only you will see some different graphics and a refreshing new colour scheme, but you'll also get a new layout. We have tried to add more information to the home page so that you are able to see in more detail the activities that going on within the network. (Stay tuned: we’ll be adding some more feature articles shortly.)

    You also have easier access to to other areas of the site via a simple navigation menu on the left hand side of the home page. This makes accessing free resources such as Peer Coaching and Enquiring Minds a breeze.

    Accessing some of the free resources we offer through the Innovative Teachers programme has also been made simpler. From the welcome page you can get the free download of Microsoft AutoCollage, which lets you make photo montages. You can also download the ITN Web part, another free resource that allows you to access the site and its content directly from your learning platform.

    But we are not stopping there - there are many more exciting changes on the horizon! Soon you will be able to sign in to the ITN using your Windows Live ID, making registering and logging in even more convenient. And there will be even more free content to download, such as videos on how teachers are using Microsoft applications in the classroom.

    To tempt you even further, Kristen and I have been working really hard to let our colleagues in the States, who produce the Innovative Teachers Network, know what teachers want in terms of a support network. We are sworn to secrecy in terms of details, but we can tell you that we suggested an Innovative Teachers Network that has the feel of Facebook with the flexibility of the tools that are part of the Windows Live portfolio. They didn’t say no.

    So watch this space -- as soon as we can give you a look at the next version of the Innovative Teachers Network, we will!

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    For all you technology teachers out there

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    We may have a conference for you.  Capture

    (Let me just clarify something, because it confused me at first. This conference is for teachers interested in Computing – how computers work and how to program them, rather than ICT – how to use computers. If you teach Computing or are interested in teaching Computing, read on.)

    Thursday 18 June and Friday 19 June, the Computing at School working group is running a conference titled “Computing, the Next Generation” at the University of Birmingham. Here’s what you can expect (taken directly from their Web site):

    Looking for inspiration to breathe more life into your lessons?
    Are you frustrated by current opportunities for teaching Computing within ICT?
    Do you struggle to find dynamic resources to engage your pupils?
    Do you wish to enhance your own skills… to keep pace with your students who seem to ‘know it all already’?

    Then join us, for a unique opportunity to hear from practising teachers and educators about developing computing in our schools. Experience first hand the magic of computing from the people behind the wonderful cs4fn website. Have fun with Tim Bell from New Zealand, and explore how to teach computing without a computer! Learn to use Greenfoot from the master, Michael Kölling and engage pupils’ interest by exploring the Computer Science inside their phone, mp3 player, or game console, with Quintin Cutts.

    The conference is sponsored by The Council of Professors and Heads of Computing and Microsoft Research, and as such, it is FREE to attend. Just go to their web site (http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/) to see the conference programme and download the registration form.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Planning ahead for next year – take part in The Climate Mystery

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    I know, I know – with the near summer weather we’ve had until recently (at least here in SE England), it’s difficult to think of anything but summer holiday. In this post, however, I’m going to ask you to think past your long-awaited and much-deserved summer holiday to your new school term next autumn.

    In September, 2009, Microsoft and a Danish company called Congin will launch The Climate Mystery – an Altered Reality  Learning Universe about the global climate challenges. From September to December, The Climate Mystery will involve participating students in an epic online story that will pretend to be actually happening, in real time. The dramatic online story will climax during the COP15 Climate Summit, held in Copenhagen. ClimateMystery

    Our Innovative Teachers heard about this project from one of its creators, while we were in Vienna. Scottish teacher Ollie Bray wrote about it on his own blog HERE. Let me try to explain what it could mean to you.

    The Climate Mystery is directed at students age 12-16 and aims to “hook” them with dramatic, fictional events, engaging them in a social network and allowing them to interact with online learning games – all based on the premise that soon they will be involved in saving the global climate.

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    The Climate Mystery can be implemented as a blended learning process, and can absorb different roles in lessons on climate issues. It can be the main element in the lessons on climate, a motivating introduction to the subject - or an element for gathering and evaluating within a larger educational framework. In addition, The Climate Mystery can be used in the students’ free-time. The aim is for the game to be so engaging, that the students stay with it beyond their school-related obligations.

    Teachers are provided with a large array of materials (everything from a teacher’s guide to suggested lessons, to possible student work and assessments) to allow them to use these “real” scenarios to teach about global climate challenges.

    This the second such “Altered Reality” learning experience introduced by Congin; the first was available only in Denmark and was a huge success, with students thinking that the events they were seeing unfold were actually happening. Kids were logging on to the social network and communities at all hours of the day and night trying to help the “star” of the adventure find his way to safety – and thus save the world from certain disaster.

    All information you need on The Climate Mystery can be found here: www.theclimatemystery.com  This is also where you can register your interest and ultimately sign up your class to play the game.

    So before you get too far into the stress of exams – and the bliss of holiday – do a little investigation into using The Climate Mystery in your classes next year. Think of all the extra time you’ll have later when you don’t have to plan as many lessons from September to December!

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Create your own E-Learning

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    imageMany secondary schools I visit are busy creating comprehensive libraries of content to support their students' learning. This content is often shared across a learning platform of some kind. It’s not really my field of expertise, being a primary school teacher, so I admit that am not fully aware of the processes and the tools that are being used. But as I have seen plenty of resources created in PowerPoint and Flash, I wanted to draw your attention to a free application from Microsoft Learning. The Learning Content Development System (LCDS) is a free tool that enables you to create high-quality, interactive, online courses. You can then publish those e-learning courses by completing the easy-to-use forms that seamlessly generate highly-customized content, interactive activities, quizzes, games, assessments, animations, demos, and other multimedia.

    image Creating a course in LCDS couldn’t be easier. When you start the application, you are presented with a simple course module structure. You can add and delete elements as you wish. Clicking on the title of each part of the course, you are able to select a template from which you can build that specific piece of content.

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    In this example, we are going to make a multiple choice question based on the Innovative Teachers Network.  In this case, questions and answers, along with feedback are entered into the template, this is then saved. When the course is run, this question looks like this.image

    This is a very simple template, but there are a range to choose from that allow you to combine text, video, and Flash files. Others will generate simple animated sort and tile games. Some really interesting templates allow you to create interactive thinking skills activities, such as an adventure game and drag and drop activities.

    This application allows all teachers to create online courses and revision materials for their students. It is very simple to learn and requires no programming or media authoring skills. The generated course is SCORM compliant and compatible with Internet Explorer 8 and Silverlight. It is also available as a number of files that can be compressed and downloaded as single file to be shared over network. You can see some examples of courses created using the LCDS here. They are all ICT focused , but give you a good idea of what is achievable. A great example is Microsoft’s Digital Literacy course, which was created using this application.

    I introduced LCDS to our award winning teachers at the UK Innovative Teachers Forum, and we had some great feedback from them. They could see this being a valuable tool for schools and suggested some other uses of this application, including allowing students to create their own courses and revision materials for each other. Another great suggestion was that in many schools the use of YouTube is blocked by the local authority, rendering some great resources are inaccessible. By downloading a YouTube video and building some activities around it using the LCDS, the video and its associated work can be made available to students.

    If you are considering or currently developing content for your students and are looking for tools to allow you to do that, then the Learning Content Development System is a great application to start with.

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