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  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    How much do you trust your students?


    From what I’ve seen visiting schools in this country, I’d say on the whole…not much. (Don’t feel bad; teachers and schools in the US trust students a lot less.)

    The level trust we have for students and pupils is always made obvious when I visit other countries. Here are two examples.

    Denmark: I visited the Hellerup School, a primary school outside of Copenhagen, which is set up with “home” areas for pupils

    rather than anything resembling traditional classrooms. While there were desks, pupils sat on the floor, on the furniture, on raised wooden platforms, on sofas or wherever else they felt most comfortable learning. The “home” areas truly felt like homes, with complete kitchens and – much to my amazement – lit candles all over the place. Think about it: would we ever allow candles to be lit on a regular basis in a school in this country – much less a primary school? Hellerup School trusts that pupils are not going to injure themselves or start a fire with the candles.

    Finland: We ran a series of meetings at a school in Oulu, Finland, which is about 200km from the Arctic Circle. Our meetings took place while the school was in session, and as such we were able to enjoy the regular school dinner as our mid-day meal. First of all, this was the best school dinner I’ve ever had – before or since. Second, it was served on actual ceramic plates with actual metal utensils and glasses made of glass. No one was serving the food; pupils were allowed to take as much as they wanted and go back for seconds. They were trusted to moderate themselves, eat in a reasonable manner and not break the dishes.

    And here’s an example from this country. For years, Microsoft has run a Student Help Desk initiative around the world, which helps schools set up student-run technical support centres to handle all level 1 technical support within a school. This saves schools and authorities money in support contracts, teaches students technical skills and troubleshooting and customer support skills and does wonders for the self-esteem and confidence of every student support technician I’ve ever met. Yet MOST schools in the UK want nothing to do with this programme, as teachers don’t trust the students with their computers and ICT coordinators don’t trust students with the data they might see. I’m afraid I just don’t understand.

    My experiences in Finland and Denmark may seem like small things, but they’re telling examples of how the culture in Finnish and Danish education is completely different. If students feel like they are trusted and valued, they will behave differently. If we want to be serious about things like personalisation of learning for each student, WE need to behave differently.

    Here’s your chance. Stuart and I have blogged in the past about Futurelab’s Enquiring Minds curriculum, which trusts students to direct their own learning. Take a look at the new podcast on Enquiring Minds from Futurelab researcher Ben Williamson. It’s a 32-minute presentation created for the BETT show, and it talks to you about the enquiry-based learning approach and how you can get started. If this is something that interests you, go to the Enquiring Minds community on the Innovative Teachers Network and look at the Enquiring Minds Guide, Professional Development resources for teachers, and loads of other resources in the community. (You can find the Student Help Desk curriculum, training and resources on the ITN as well.)

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Planning for Next Year (Post #3): Ideas from the Internet


    Sometimes I don’t know how I ever found any information before the Internet. Granted, you have to know how to sift through all the garbage that’s out there in order to uncover the quality resources that the Internet has to offer. This can be especially difficult in education, as there is an endless number of sites claiming to have great lesson plans or professional development resources. It’s difficult for new or novice teachers (or teachers new to teaching with ICT) to judge which resources are actually good and which are mere imposters.


    To help with your planning for next year, we thought we’d provide a list of our favourite teacher web sites from the UK, US and Canada. All of these sites contain vetted, high-quality resources, even though they may not be “traditional” education sites. We hope this list both inspires you and saves you some time in your planning.NAtionalGeographic 


    National Geographic The folks who brought you the classic magazine full of stories and photos from around the world now have a UK-specific education site with loads of lesson plan ideas, games for students and other resources for teachers.





    BBC Teachers The BBC has what looks like a beta Teacher site at present, providing resources separated into subject area and Key Stages, as well as more than 3,000 clips from BBC programmes that you can use in your class.




    Discovery Channel The UK version of this site is full of videos, games and  videos from their “How Do They Do It?” series, where they explore things like how the stripes get into toothpaste and why plasma screens are flat. If you go to the US version of the site, you can find links to the other partner channels, such as Animal Planet, The Learning Channel (TLC), and more.




    The History Channel (the last in my “television” series of recommendations) has great interactive maps, GCSE and A-level revision prep, and safe moderated discussions on different topics in history. (All posts to discussions are reviewed and approved by a moderator before they are posted to the discussion).



    Edutopia is the web site for the George Lucas Education Foundation. I’ve mentioned this site in passing in another post, but you should visit or – better yet – sign up for their newsletter for more information about education discussions, lesson plan ideas, project-based learning resources, and much more. Note that this is a US-based site.



    NASA (The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has a  dedicated area of its site for teachers that allows you to take advantage of all of their fantastic resources in your classroom. There is also a separate area of their site for your students.

    The remaining two sites I’ve mentioned in earlier, more detailed posts.

    Thinkfinity is run by the Verizon education foundation in the US, and includes thousands of resources that are posted by the major education standard bodies in the US. I blogged about it last September.

    Taking IT Global is a global education community for young people, focused on connecting youth all over the world who are actively working to improve their communities. The site has a great area for educators, called TIGed, which provides resources for teachers to help them use the vast resources of Taking IT Global in their classrooms. The Canadian-based site is described in detail in an earlier post.







    This is just a short list of what we like – tell us what you’re using!

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Planning for Next Year (Post #2): Professional Development Workshops


    For our second post in this planning series, we’re talking to those of you who organise professional development workshops, twilight sessions, or inset days for other teachers in your school. If this sounds like you, read on!


    In addition to writing this blog, Stuart and I are a bit of a travelling roadshow, going from school to school around England, Scotland and Wales running workshops, twilight sessions, or inset days for interested schools. During these workshops, we talk about many of the products and resources we discuss in this blog – in much more detail, of course.

    The workshops are designed to inspire and offer training to those teachers who aren’t as confident using technology in their teaching. We work with all teachers, regardless of the subject they teach or their skill level. We talk about things like Photosynth, AutoCollage, Deep Zoom, Worldwide Telescope, OneNote, and the Innovative Teachers Programme and Network. We help teachers start an Innovative Teachers Network at their schools or in their authorities, in order to create and share professional development materials. And we generally have a bit of fun in the process.

    If your school or authority is interested in something like this, or if you already have a professional development workshop or inset day you’d like us to participate in, let us know. We’d be happy to join you.

    (Our diaries are filling up quickly – so contact us by email if you’re interested: or

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Engaging Parents – What is your school doing?


    Stay with me for a bit of background information, and you may find a great opportunity for your school in today’s post.

    Last year, Microsoft worked with four schools all over England to create a series of videos and case studies that described how these schools tackled nine different areas of school reform, such as change management, student experience,isp learning outcomes, use of ICT, and so forth.

    The schools that were featured have gotten a good deal of attention since the launch of these videos. Former Minister for Schools Jim Knight used one of these videos to open the BETT Show in London last January and personally wrote each of the schools a letter thanking them for their participation in the project. They are featured on Microsoft’s worldwide Innovative Schools Web site, and are shown to education audiences all over the world. The schools have all gotten visits from Microsoft executives, government officials, teachers and school leaders from many other countries.

    We’re launching a new project with the DCSF to showcase schools who are using technology in innovative ways to engage parents in their children’s learning. As a part of this project, we will be creating a new set of video case studies and supporting materials with a new set of example schools. We are in the process of selecting these schools right now, and rather than go to the same schools we work with all the time, we thought we’d ask you – What is YOUR school doing?

    If you think your schools is doing creative things using ICT to better involve parents, let us know! Email me (you should have this address memorised by now) at and tell me what you’re doing.

    For a look at the videos we created last year, visit our Innovative Schools web site.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Planning for Next Year (Post #1): What do you need help with?


    Stuart and I have been visiting a lot of schools in the weeks – and now days – leading up to the end of term. As the conversations we’re hearing are all around planning for next year, we thought we’d try to provide you with a series of posts that may help you in the planning process. For the most part, these posts will just be short, quick ideas that will (we hope) inspire you in your planning.


    Stuart and I have some ideas of things we’d like to share with you, but for this first post, we’d like to hear from you. What would help you in your planning process? What would make things easier? What ideas do you need – and where are you stuck for information or inspiration? Let us know – either by responding with a comment to this post, or by emailing me (Kristen) at kriwea@microsoft or Stuart at

    We’ll do our best to address your questions in a subsequent post and if we can’t (and even if we can), we’ll pose the question to the rest of our readers.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Worldwide Telescope - A Universe of Learning


    Did you know that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy? It’s also 40 years since man first stepped on the Moon. Because of this, in my recent school visits I’ve seen a lot of teachers undertaking projects based around Earth and space. (Incidentally, as a child of the 1960's, I feel really old seeing this period studied in school as 'history'. Don't worry, Kristen - the 70's will be next!) I loved teaching about space when I was teaching. It was a great topic to develop pupils thinking skills and spark their imagination and creativity. The topic of space is ideal to utilise a range of rich ICT resources. I wanted to share one in particular. When I show this to teachers, they always ask two questions: where can I get it and how much is it?

    The 'it’ I am referring to is Microsoft Worldwide Telescope (WWT), available at .

    Worldwide Telescope Overview

    WWT is described as ‘a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe.’ Or to put it in simpler terms, the biggest visual playground of discovery that you could give your pupils.

    Worldwide Telescope allows you to bring stunning visuals of the universe directly into the classroom. Pupils are able to interact with and explore the universe through terabytes of digital data collected and stitched together by the software.

    There is so much great imagery in this application that the possible use in the classroom is endless. In terms of knowledge and information, it has everything you would need to meet the needs of the national curriculum. The visuals of the planets are stunning; they can be explored in 3D and pupils can ‘fly’ from one planet to another, discovering the order of the planets and their orbits. They can control this navigation in real time, so they can ask questions such as ‘What was the position of the planets on a birthday?’ or ‘What date will the planets all be in alignment?’


    More advanced activities can be based around the electromagnetic spectrum, with astronomical phenomena able to be viewed as infrared and x-rays, as well as visible light. This is an astrophysicists delight!

    Another great feature of WWT are the guided tours. Created by the development team and scientists from NASA, these give you tutorials of how to use the various functions of WWT, as well as detailed descriptions of deep space objects and phenomena. The best part of this feature is that pupils can make their own guided tours, using any of the imagery in WWT and adding their own commentary and even music.

    Capture1 Stitch

    With this being the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, WWT has a wealth of imagery from the Apollo missions, including some panoramas of the scene that astronauts saw when they first set foot on the moon. This is a great stimulus for some creative writing or recording audio to accompany the imagery. If you use this in your lessons with footage from the actual moon landings, you are able to give your pupils a great learning experience.

    But, I haven’t yet answered the second question teachers ask, which is, how much does this great resource cost? Well the answer is, absolutely nothing! Amazingly, this resource is completely free. At this point in my presentations, teachers usually gasp and quickly write down the download URL,

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