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June, 2007 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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June, 2007

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Simon Dutton Associates Conference


    On Friday29th June, I was invited to present to the Simon Dutton Associates/Paritor conference. Although I am used to talking with local authority service teams delivering educational services, it was the first time I'd ever presented to an audience responsible for peripatetic music services, and talking with them at the dinner the evening before, I sensed that it was a "cinderella service" - providing essential value to the education and achievement of children within their schools, but not necessarily closely linked to the rest of the local authority, and with a resulting under-investment. Simon Dutton Associates' flagship product is EnsembleXP.Net, which is a management system for music and performing arts services

    My message was about four aspects of transformation - technology, the lifestyle of students, new attitudes to schools and the way that information flow needs to be more connected and visible.

    So, for those who attended and others who may have an interest, here's the links to the slides and other resources that I used:

    Transformed Learning PowerPoint presentation (Right Click and "Save File As...")

    Shift Happens (instructions & details on the webpage)

    Microsoft Surface - unfortunately the video I used isn't available publically, but there are other video resources on the Surface website

    And finally a short video trailer for the BSF Showcase (Right Click and "Save File As...")


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Handheld Learning Conference 2007


    What do Stephen Heppel, Stephen Crowne & Marc Prensky all have in common? Well, they along with a range of others, will be speaking at the Handheld Learning Conference this year.

    John Galloway said of last year's conference:

    "the key element in London's recent Handheld Learning conference was not the tools but the ethos behind them. It covered more than one technology - in fact anything you can easily carry, including personal digital assistants (PDAs), iPods, tablet PCs, mobile phones, and even games consoles. These are not new technologies, and the speakers weren't saying anything they hadn't said several times before. However, it seems the message - that these devices can fundamentally change learning - is beginning to be heard more widely."

    Normally it would cost you £295 to attend the conference on Wed 10th October - Friday 12th October in London, but I have in my hands a voucher code that would allow you to register for only £195. To get this price, simply enter the code "hl07 microsoft" onto the registration page when you register.

    If the feedback from last year's conference is repeated this year, it's going to be a thoughtful and insightful look at how learning can be changed through the use of all kinds of mobile devices. In fact, the message from the conference is that there are all kinds of ways that you can transform learning using all kinds of mobile technologies - you just need to decide what fits with your school's strategy and get started.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Homework Helper - a new way of using a search engine


    generalknowledge James, a colleague of mine, has just told me about the beta release of Homework Helper he's been working on the project team of. It's a web site which is designed to help 12-16 year old students find the help they need for assignments and homework on the major subjects in England (It works for Wales & Scotland too, but is is tagged to Key Stages and English subjects currently)

    James said:

    Homework Helper is made up of lots of specialist search engines that search the internet by homework topic. We only get results from the best sites for each subject, so you get better answers quicker. Just choose your year, subject, and topic from the drop down menu, enter a search term and we will find the answers and websites that will help answer your homework questions.

    It's still a beta which means it’s not quite perfect yet, but we would like you to help us test it over the summer ready for you after your summer break. There are even some cool prizes for great feedback and suggestions.

    There are prizes of MSN Music Vouchers for submitting new sites to search, or just for providing feedback. (Just thought I'd mention that if you wanted to give your kids something to do during the dismal downpours this weekend!)

    My children haven't left primary school yet, but my eldest is due to leave this year, and so I'll be expecting the level of expertise needed to be a homework-helper to jump up a bit. So this is just in time for me!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Boosting learning potential at the leading edge of ICT


    I wrote about Long Eaton School, in Derbyshire, a while ago. Well, their story has now made it onto the official Microsoft Case Study website, and so they are being held up as an example worldwide of what can be achieved with the effective use of technology in learning.

    Their case study starts:

    Long Eaton is committed to investing in the latest IT as it aims to maintain its “outstanding” OFSTED rating. The school upgraded its technology cost-effectively through the Microsoft School Agreement and implemented Windows Vista, the 2007 Microsoft Office system, and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Now, staff and students have access to intuitive technology, while the IT team can fix problems without interrupting their daily activities.

    To keep its “outstanding” rating from OFSTED, Long Eaton School near Derbyshire must maintain an exceptional standard of education for all of its students. When the school moved into a new, purpose-built site in February 2006, it decided to adopt the latest IT.

    Richard Vasey, Head Teacher, Long Eaton School, says: “If we are preparing children for the big wide world, we need to replicate that world by providing the latest equipment and software.” ...

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    BBC News: Computers 'can raise attainment'


    Becta have just released news of the final report of 4-year study into the £34m ICT Test Bed projects, run in three deprived areas of England. The outcomes showed gains in some GCSE and primary school test scores.

    The BBC news report does an excellent job of telling a story which can sometimes be passionately argued from both sides of the fence, but mainly focuses on the attainment results from the statutory tests and GCSEs. If you take a look at the ICT Test Bed Evaluation web site, a joint project between Nottingham Trent and Manchester Metropolitan Universities, you'll see that they also provide a lot of depth into the other benefits that the projects delivered.

    Across three areas, there were some interesting conclusions (a further two areas are also covered in the report):

    • Learning and teaching
      • The impact of ICT on attainment levels was greater for primary schools than for secondary schools.
      • Effective use of presentation technologies led to greater interaction between teachers and learners.
      • Effective use of ICT personalised learning by enabling greater learner choice within the curriculum, improved assessment for learning and more learner-directed teaching.
      • The use of electronic registration improved attendance levels in some schools by three to four per cent.
    • Leadership and management
      • Institutions that were more e-mature improved their performance levels significantly more quickly than those which were not.
      • Managing the implementation of large amounts of ICT required a strong vision, an extended planning phase, staged investment and support throughout.
      • Schools needed to build sustainability - of both resources and pedagogic change - into their change management strategies from the start.
      • Ready access to databases, which enable better analysis of data, made assessment and planning more systematic. However, there was a need to ensure that the amount of analysis required was not over-burdensome.
      • Management information systems (MIS) enabled leaders to better identify the particular needs of their school community through improved data analysis.
    • Workforce development
      • The involvement of ICT changed the working practices of teachers and extended the roles of administrative staff and technicians.
      • Well co-ordinated and sustained professional development opportunities were important in developing ICT skills and confidence of all staff and embedding the use of ICT. Informal, on-the-job training was very effective when supported by in-school champions.
      • Where new technologies were introduced into all of a school's classrooms at the same time, a culture of sharing and mutual support developed as the whole staff faced the task of embedding the technology into their pedagogy.
      • Access to reliable technology and daily use led to rapid improvements in teachers' skills and improved management of workloads.
      • Shared server areas and virtual learning environments made it easier for teachers to find, store, share, create and reuse resources and lesson plans. This ensured long-term value from the initial high investment by the workforce.

    Over quite a long period, it has often been reported that ICT improves pupil motivation and engagement with learning, and this report, after a long study, goes a lot further in identifying where this investment has helped in some of the key education 'buzzword' initiatives, like Assessment For Learning, and parental engagement. It's definitely worth a read on the ICT Test Bed Evaluation web site

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Office 2007 - Free online training courses


    Helping your users get up to speed with Microsoft Word and the Office 2007 System

    When you first open Word 2007, it looks very different to what you may have become used to, because it has been designed to make your life a whole lot easier.

    So here's a training course, where you will learn the best ways to use the new Ribbon in Word, which highlights all of the most popular functions you need day-today. It will also introduce you to the Mini toolbar, which displays formatting commands within your documents, right where you want to use them. Plus you will learn the new Quick Styles; ready-made styles that give your document a professional makeover in no time at all.

    Review the Word 2007 demo, or get started straight away on the course

    Other resources to help staff migrate to the Office 2007 system include:

    • A simply but brilliant visual and interactive Word 2003 to Word 2007 Command reference guide
      This is worth having as a shortcut on the desktop for new users. Any time you want to find where menu options went to in the new version, then run this, point to the menu item, and it will tell you how to access it in Office 2007's Ribbon.
    • The Office 2007 System Training Centre, designed for everyone from beginners to advanced users - from things like "creating your first presentation" to "getting started with Pivot tables".
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Mash Up anybody?


    I've been hearing all about Web 2.0 for quite a while now, and seen it increasingly used within education to reflect a change that's happening to the web and the way that users interact with it. No sooner have I become comfortable with that idea, then along comes the concept of "Mash Ups", which were pretty meaningless to me (as a non-programmer) until this...

    The Popfly service, which is in beta at the moment, allows users to create Mash Ups without needing programming skills (a mash up allows you to pick up data from one website or service, and lay it onto a service on another. For example, to pick up a collection of photos from Flickr and display them on a world map to show where they were taken). It's far more difficult to write about than it is to show, so here's some links to get an understanding of it:

    • The Popfly videos -  watch the whole 15 minute Popfly video...
    • The Popfly website - to sign up and give it a try yourself, and then you can also watch the "Mash Ups in 30 seconds" video!
    • And, my first Popfly mashup - see below. Made by linking one of myFlickr photo sets to a carousel display. Once you've seen it, you won't believe that it only took me 5 minutes to create it!

    Ray's first Popfly

    (There will be a short delay the first time the pages above load, while Silverlight downloads. All of this is using the new Silverlight technology, which is cross-platform browser plug-in to create rich, multimedia web applications)

    None of the examples on the Popfly website are specifically based on education scenarios, but the potential to make really vibrant web pages using this technology is wide. How about publishing your sports day winner photos using the photocube, or photocarousel, and putting that onto your website?



  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Handwriting development on a Tablet PC


    I came across this story on an internal company newsletter this week, and think it's worth sharing. It's all about a free software application a colleague has developed, to help develop fine motor skills in disabled children...

    In his sHerbiWriterpare time, a Microsoft employee built a programme to help disabled children develop fine motor skills. The animated, Tablet PC game has “transformed” handwriting lessons

    When Guy Barker demoed his handwriting-assistance software, called HerbiWriter, to my colleagues last week, he expected many to be underwhelmed, because the concept is so simple. Guy’s programme, developed over 150 hours of his own time, is helping students with developmental and physical challenges learn to form letters on Tablet PCs.

    “It’s been extremely gratifying,” said Barker, who has worked on simple accessibility programs in his spare time for more than three years. “For a long time, I got no validation. I wondered whether I had good ideas or was just wasting time. … It seems to me that both on the software and hardware side of things, we should be able to help people with disabilities more than we are. This is an underserved community.”

    Down Syndrome Student Does Victory Dance

    Susan Thompson, a Dallas-based occupational therapist, contacted the Tablet PC developers’ alias about a year ago, asking if a program existed to help people develop handwriting skills. Her inquiry inspired Barker, then with the Tablet team, to design HerbiWriter.

     Getting schoolchildren to practice handwriting used to be pure drudgery, Thompson said. “The kids hated it. I didn’t enjoy it.” Now she uses the software to aid kids who have autism, cerebral palsy, or other challenges.

    “Kids just keep trying without getting frustrated. … When they see me coming … with my Tablet PC, they’re excited to work with HerbiWriter. They’re learning the letters because they like to … see Herbi smile. It’s really transformed my therapy for the better,” Thompson said.

    The software, which Barker made with Visual Studio.NET and C#, demonstrates proper letter formation, and then asks children to replicate letter strokes. Kids accumulate points in a game-like approach that offers positive reinforcement from a dragon named Herbivore – Herbi for short.

    Herbi’s encouragement goes a long way with one of Thompson’s students, who has Down syndrome. “To my delight and surprise, he was able to watch the letter formation and replicate it. He’d do a dance every time he got it right,” Thompson said.

    Such feedback “knocked me off my feet,” Barker said. “I find it hard to believe such simple software could be so helpful to the students.”

    Students without disabilities could benefit from HerbiWriter, too, Thompson added. Kids who play more with repetitive motion-based video games and less with toys that require manipulation might lack the fine motor skills required for proper handwriting. Often children in early elementary grades get referred to occupational therapists to correct bad habits.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Essex school reduces paper trail with digital portal


    As puts it: "An end to the 'dog ate my homework' excuse?"

    Emerson Park School in Romford has kicked off a trial in virtual learning involving 1,000 pupils and staff in line with a government drive to push technology into education.

    The school has committed 10 per cent of its annual budget over the next three years to investing in computer tools for learning as a way of engaging students, training staff and streamlining the task of assessment.

    Read the full story on

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Curriculum Materials for teachers and senior managers


    My colleague, Pippa, has just released a big bundle of free materials onto the website. It includes a range of professional development resources, as well as curriculum and learning materials designed for teachers to assist in developing their ICT skills and in using ICT in the delivery of their lessons.

    • Effective ICT Pedagogies
      A one day training course for teachers which may be delivered in an INSET day or used as self-paced learning by any leading teacher. The materials include an outline for the training with guides for time spent on varying activities, broken down into three distinct sessions of learning. The course aims to support people in taking the first steps in applying their own ICT skills to their teaching enabling them to create highly personalised activities suitable for their learners.  And this is also a resource for teachers who themselves are confident and inspirational practitioners faced with the challenge of coaching and supporting those around them and doing the same.
    • Microsoft's Digital Literacy Curriculum blends eLearning and assessment to provide basic computer skills for students, school staff or community members new to computing. The curriculum teaches how ICT impacts daily life as well as important concepts and skills including how to use desktop applications, communicate via e-mail, browse the World Wide Web, and use a computer responsibly.
    • And for senior managers, Michael Fullan has developed materials on Leading Change for distribution through Microsoft's Partners in Learning programme. The materials include a development module entitled 'Learning to Lead Change' as well as two publications on Change Knowledge and a Case Study which illustrates education change projects from around the world. The course materials are aimed at school leaders or key change agents. They may be delivered as part of leadership training over a two day period or used as self-directed learning.

    It's all on the website

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