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December, 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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December, 2007

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Twelfth Day of Christmas


    Congratulations, you made it through to Christmas. But it's Christmas Eve. Shouldn't you be putting your feet up? Relaxing? Getting ready for tomorrow's festivities?

    Well, I know that in many schools, Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays mean "IT project time". ICT has become so critical to the success of the school, that you're not allowed to switch things off for a bit of maintenance, upgrading and TLC when people are relying on the network for learning, administration, exam entries, exam results, pupil census returns, VLE logins, email etc etc etc. It's great that IT's now "Mission Critical" to the school, and that there are SLA's in place to ensure 24/7/365 access. But it also creates a real challenge for network managers and senior leaders - when is the time to plan the big network upgrade? When do we switch over servers?

    So even though it is Christmas Eve, and most of the staff have gone home, I know there will be some working on school ICT systems today. (And I actually know some of your names, because as I've met you over December you've told me of your plans for your networks this Christmas).

    My last gift of Christmas is therefore for you. Those working in schools on Christmas Eve.

    For the first 3 emails I get on Christmas Eve (using the link below, from your school email address!), I'll send you one of three copies of Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate that I've got sitting on my desk now.

    Just click this link to email me

    Happy Christmas everybody.

    See you next year at BETT!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Photo Story 3 - The 11th Day of Christmas


    I was reviewing some of my colleagues notes from the World Innovative Teachers Forum in Helsinki, an event that we host annually for teachers and government attendees from all around the world, and saw a note that many teachers there were using Photo Story in their lessons, and were surprised that Microsoft didn't do more to tell teachers about it. And Photo Story is free.


    What it does is allow you to co-ordinate images and music, and turn it into an impressive slideshow, with special effects, narration, titles, captions, and then publish them for viewing on a computer or TV.

    My description simply can't do it justice, so here's an example Photo Story output.

    Go to the web site for information and the free download.

    You may want this for your home computer, but don't forget to put it into the hands of an Art teacher, or PE teacher, or the person co-ordinating the new school trip or extra-curricular activity.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Search - The 10th Day of Christmas


    A few weeks ago, we introduced the new Search Server 2008 (this is software based, not another box for the server room), which allows you to make it easier for people within your school or local authority to find information published on your network - and places you select in external information sources, for example web sites or results from web search engines. Even if you already have a Learning Platform, with learning content loaded into it, you may find that a lot of resources and information is stored outside of it - thinks like lesson plans stored on shared network drives, or school policy documents, stored on another server, or even on the school web site. Traditionally, you have to perform a number of different searches in different places.

    Hey, I've just realised this is just like real life.

    "I've lost my car keys".

    "Have you tried the lounge?"

    "Let me - they weren't there"

    "Have you tried the study?"

    "Let me - they weren't there"

    "Have you tried the door?"

    "Let me - they weren't in the door"

    "Have you tried your coat?"...............

    SearchServer Video

    Putting a search server in place means that you can setup to search the right resources, internally and externally, to help your users - staff and students - to get to the right information more easily. Meaning staff can just search for an appropriate lesson plan (What would change if everybody in the history department could see all lesson resources referring to King James, and not just the ones that they created and remembered?). And because it is integrated to your network and network security, staff can see  and access more things from the search than students. And the Senior Leadership Team can search whatever secret folders they have that the rest of the school don't know about - and still won't know about. Security of information, as we've been seeing recently is pretty important stuff, so making it more accessible is good but retaining security is critical too.

    The video on the left shows you what the Search Server does, from an end-user's perspective.

    So, my real life example now goes

    "I've lost my car keys".

    "Well, I've just looked simultaneously looked in every room in the house, except the bathroom which is locked, and outside, and can tell you they're in your pocket."


    So why is this in the Christmas present list? Well, there are two versions of Search Server 2008. And one of them is absolutely free. It's called Search Server 2008 Express, and it is functionally the same as its grown up brother (the time to change comes when you have massive search databases - you'll need to read the website for more info, but I think schools aren't going to hit the limits).

    Full information on the free Search Server 2008 Express, and the free download are on the web site.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    More Free things - the 6th-7th-8th-9th Days of Christmas


    I'm sorry - for the last three days I have been the victim of a virus doing the rounds here in North Oxfordshire. So instead of sitting behind a keyboard, and giving your more Christmas gifts, I have been behind a duvet, trying to recover (and not infect the family). I don't know what the usual winter bugs have been doing in your school, but a local primary school ended up closing a day early, as their pupils were dropping like flies, and they even had special "deep cleaners" in every night for a week. So not a happy week, but all will be well for Christmas (fingers crossed).

    So, I've got a backlog of gifts for the last few days to handover

    The 6th Day of Christmas - Free Maths Add-In for Word

    The free add-in for Microsoft Word to help with Maths (handily, called "Microsoft Math Add-in for Word") adds all kinds of graphing and equation capabilities to Word 2007. It specifically adds an "Equation Tools" tab to the Ribbon, and is a really handy way to create and simplif algebraic expressions. This is great for student use, and even more useful for teachers creating worksheets in Word, where they need to put complex equations in. A real time save.

    You can download it free from the Microsoft Downloads site


    The 7th Day of Christmas - Free e-safety resources for teachers & trainee teachers


    The Know IT All programme, sponsored by Microsoft, is designed to help children to understand and manage the risks involved with Internet use. The great thing about the way that Know IT All has been designed by Childnet International, is that there are resources there for parents, children, schools and teachers. The latest, Know IT All for Teachers and Trainee Teachers, have been designed for use by any school with 11-year olds+, and also as part of the teacher training programme. Although e-safety is important, isn't part of the required curriculum for teacher training, so the resources created have been designed to be easily delivered, without time-consuming preparation.

    Know IT All for Teachers, and Know IT All for Trainee Teachers, are available from the Childnet website


    The 8th Day of Christmas - Free e-safety CD ROM for parents

    Okay, I'm going to cheat a little...


    The Know IT All programme, sponsored by Microsoft.......
    The other Know IT All resource that is well worth using is "Know IT All for Parents". It contains advice for parents and carers, and a special section for children and young people. Schools can order copies Free of Charge for distribution to parents, and so far about 1 million copies have been ordered. (That might seem like a lot, but it's still only around 20% of all secondary students).

    More details are on the Childnet website, and the full content from the CD ROM is available online here including a summary of the advice in Arabic, Mandarin, Polish, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, and British Sign Language.


    The 9th Day of Christmas - Free Training Add-In for Office 2007

    Which brings us bang up to date. By this point, I know I'm talking to a dwindling audience - every school in Britain has broken up, and most of you are probably reading this in January, but ho hum (or should that be "ho ho") I'll carry on anyway...

    Are you moving to Office 2007 next year? Most users love the switch, and find that the new Ribbon interface makes some things easy which were previously quite difficult - my favourite example is "conditional formatting", which allows you to show data more graphically in Excel 2007, with a couple of mouse clicks. So from a table of 300 attendance percentages a couple of clicks will highlight the top 10 and bottom 10 pupils, with no hard work involved.

    But change, of any kind, can disorient some users, so there's a great set of free downloads available which add a "Get Started" tab to the Word/Excel/PowerPoint menu, with links for online training, interactive guides video demos, and links to online Office discussion groups.

    Download the new tabs using the links below:

    Word 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

    Excel 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

    PowerPoint 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    SharePoint Training - the fifth day of Christmas


    Today's gift is free online SharePoint training resources. I used these for the first time last week (even though I've been using SharePoint for 15 months).

    I have already customised my MySite, to add a wiki for my colleagues, and to put it directly on my home page. And I've linked my SharePoint document library to my Outlook inbox, so that I can see all my documents when I am offline. What I learnt from the training is that I can edit these documents offline, and Outlook will synchronise the changes back to the document library when I'm next online.

    The free training is available to download as a complete package from the Microsoft Download Centre, and it is cleverly split into multiple, short chapters, so that you can dip into the section you want.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Accessibility - Fourth Day of Christmas


    Continuing the 12 gifts theme, I wanted to share some useful information and resources for accessibility. I read in PC Pro that Microsoft is one of the founding members of the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA), which also includes Adobe, Oracle, HP and Novell in its membership. One of the aims is to create a development standard which ensures that those using assistive technology - such as screen readers for the blind - can do so across all websites or applications.

    There is currently no standard in place, meaning that those dependent on assistive technology are often forced to wait for upgrades before they can use the latest software. Among its initial efforts the Alliance will be establishing a set of keyboard shortcuts for users of AT, that will be uniform across all browsers. It is also seeking to extend current accessibility models, such as Microsoft UI Automation and IAccessible2 , to improve interoperability with current AT technology. The hope is that the collaboration will improve developer guidelines, tools and help create technologies with lower development costs.

    That's a longer term goal - it's certainly not going to deliver anything in time for this Christmas. However, reading more on the AIA site, led me to the accessibility section on the Microsoft site (yes, I know I should already know about this, but given the millions of pages on, it isn't possible to know where everything is).

    This section of the website contains information on accessibility across all of our products, with an index for specific products, as well as a number of guides and tutorials, including guides to accessibility by type of impairment, tutorials for accessibility in Microsoft products and a series of case studies featuring people with disabilities working in various industries. These case studies feature best practices and lessons learned, and highlighted to me a number of new ways that technology can support different users.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Robotics - Third day of Christmas


    My colleague, Paul Foster, works in the part of our business that talks to developers - both the commercial variety and student developers. One of the things they are constantly trying to do is to find new ways to engage students with the idea that programming is cool and valuable (remember the days when every boy seemed to be writing programmes for his ZX Spectrum or BBC Microcomputer?). Well, today's learners are a little bit more difficult to engage, and certainly have higher expectations, so to meet those Paul is involved with a range of things to do with robotics.

    My Christmas present for you today is that the Microsoft Robotics Studio software is available as a free download for UK Education.

    I asked Paul to tell me a bit more...

    "Robotics provides a compelling activity for pupils of all ages. Today more than ever robotics is accessible to the teacher and student. Modern robot kits like Lego’s Mindstorm NXT, already used throughout schools and in the First Lego League challenge, enable pupils to experience firsthand the elements of KS2/KS3 control curriculum. The First Lego League uses robotics as the motivator to learn more. Each September a new worldwide Challenge is announced relating Robotics to real world issues.

    Participating schools in the UK have from September to the end of November to prepare for one of the Regional Tournaments taking place around the UK. Teams will programme a robot to fulfil tasks relating to the challenge using LEGO Mindstorms technology, and prepare a research presentation on the subject for the year. The subject for 2007 is the Power Puzzle.

    Teams of up to 10 children from 9–16 years will work in out- of- school clubs or within the curriculum on all aspects of the Challenge. They will have to take a cross curricular approach using Programming and Control, Design and Technology, Maths, Web Research, Powerpoint, Strategic Thinking and Teamwork to achieve their aims. Sometimes their fellow students will video the team or write about their work to turn their preparation into a news item for dissemination within the school.

    More details of the First Lego League can be found on the Microsoft sponsored UK organisers site: with more on the global activities

    clip_image001Microsoft’s involvement in the world of robotics doesn’t stop there. In December 2006, we released our Robotics Studio, a development platform providing a single uniform programming solution covering many of the typical robot hardware – from Lego NXT to research robots like the Pioneer 3DX. It also includes a simulation environment incorporating real physics using the AGEIA PhysX Engine, enabling robot development without the need for expensive hardware.

    A robot can be programmed in the simulation environment exactly as it would in the real world – but allowing for safer testing or classroom projects where only a few real robots are available amongst many pupils. Microsoft Robotics Studio is free for non-commercial use and provides support for a visual programming language as well as traditional programming languages such as C#. (Microsoft Visual C# Express is required to run Microsoft Robotics Studio and it is also free to use). Microsoft Robotics Studio is available from

    clip_image002And finally, in next month's PC Plus, there's a special Robot Supplement with an introduction to the world of Microsoft Robotics Studio and robotics in general.

    The supplement provides 6 simple construction projects using real electronic modules cheaply available from UK suppliers as well as articles and interviews on the world of robotic research and development. Plenty of material for the inquiring mind. Presenting a useful first step into robotics for technology teaching staff.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What are 21st Century Skills?


    A colleague and I were engaged in a debate recently, in a team meeting, when we were discussing plans for BETT 2008. For the show we've added three themes to Microsoft's "Realising Potential" message. Those three themes are:

    • Raising Standards
    • Personalising Learning
    • 21st Century Skills

    The first two didn't lead us into debate, but the third did. We got locked into a deep discussion about 21st Century skills - is it about the IT skills you need in the workplace or other skills, such as collaborative working, communication, leadership, project management etc?

    My viewpoint is that it is both, not one or the other. And that as an employer, these are the skills I'm looking for in new employees, with far less importance on "traditional knowledge" (the ability to deliver facts & specific domain knowledge). What I think of as "traditional knowledge" is what gets you invited into the interview room, but it's these other skills that differentiate you from other candidates.

    I was reminded about the debate when I read stories from the BBC website today.

    The first was an interview with Bill Gates called "The skills you need to succeed", where he said:

    "The skills you need to succeed

    A solid working knowledge of productivity software and other IT tools has become a basic foundation for success in virtually any career.

    Beyond that, however, I don't think you can overemphasise the importance of having a good background in maths and science.

    If you look at the most interesting things that have emerged in the last decade - whether it is cool things like portable music devices and video games or more practical things like smart phones and medical technology - they all come from the realm of science and engineering."

    That certainly puts the "new" and "traditional" skills onto the same platform. And then I read another story "Computer knowledge undervalued", prompted by research of 500 business leaders completed by Microsoft, that puts IT skills as the seventh most important workplace skill.

    "Computer knowledge 'undervalued'

    Computer skills are still undervalued in the UK board room, according to software giant Microsoft. It surveyed 500 UK business leaders and found that a knowledge of information technology (IT) was seen as the seventh most important workplace skill.

    Instead, team working and interpersonal skills were seen as the core factors, followed by initiative.  Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said IT skills were needed from the shop floor to the chief executive."

    So what does this mean? That the move to diplomas and the reform of the curriculum is well overdue? That we need to be sure that these moves don't get undermined by media attitudes towards "traditional learning"? (I always ask "What will the Daily Mail say about this?"). And, critically, for learners today, that we're going through a period of rapid change. We'd better be ready for a turbulent journey!

    Want to talk more about this? Come along and talk about it at the BETT show in January...

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Windows Live SkyDrive - Second day of Christmas


    Continuing my run of 12 Days of Christmas, here's my gift for today. 1GB of free online storage

    SkyDriveThis year, USB memory sticks have been a recurring theme - I've given them away at events, I've distributed files on them, and in talking with students, it seems that it's become the standard way to transfer information around universities. But what happens when the memory stick you're using disappears. Well, it happened to me in August, when I lost a key presentation (doh!), and so since then I've been making more use of Windows Live SkyDrive. It's a free service which gives you 1GB of data storage on the web, and it is a doddle to upload and download files (you just drag your files from your Windows Explorer straight onto the SkyDrive window). I'm converted. Now whenever I want to share a presentation, I load it to my SkyDrive and anybody who wants it can take a copy away.

    More about SkyDrive on this blog post , or simply register for your own immediately.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    ICT Funding Grants 2008-2011


    At the end of last month, Becta added some information on its website about the Harnessing Technology grant for ICT, being allocated to English local authorities and schools from April 2008. It answers some questions you may have, but leaves out one big question - "How much will I get?". Let's see if I can help clarify a little.

    Becta's information on funding

    The two previous Standards Fund grants (one for 'national digital infrastructure for schools' and one for 'e-learning credits') are being replaced next year with a single Harnessing Technology Grant. You can decide how to spend the grant, according to your own priorities, but there is some guidance highlighting:

    • the upgrade of connectivity bandwidths appropriate to particular circumstances and needs, ensuring learners have good access to internet-based services and resources to support their learning at any time while in school
    • the extension of ICT access and ICT-based services
    • the implementation of learning platforms to enable learners to store and access their work and related information and resources on a secure online space, enabling teachers to share resources and view individual progress more easily
    • systems to achieve better use and integration of information to support learning, including assessment, attendance, behaviour and more regular reporting and updates to parents
    • investment in a range of technologies to support classroom-based learning (for example, interactive whiteboards and related tools, and other technologies like data loggers).

    The grant will be distributed by your local authority, although they can keep 25% of it to "ensure that all schools receive the benefits of aggregated purchasing, including the provision of broadband through regional broadband consortia".

    "So, how much money do I get?"

    Well, actually that depends. Over time, the grant will be more focused on areas of social deprivation. There's a formula for allocation, based on pupil numbers, 'multiple deprivation indicator' (MDI) and sparsity - and each year the MDI proportion gets higher whilst the sparsity proportion gets  lower. And in 2009, there's a drop in the proportion of the grant paid on pupil numbers. So if you're in a densely populated authority with higher deprivation, over the three years you'll expect your funding to rise, whilst sparsely populated areas will probably see their funding fall. The practical result is that Barking & Dagenham's grant will increase by 20% over the 3 years, whilst Hampshire's will fall 10%.

    That's all explained under 'Grant allocation' here, and specific local authority grants are shown on TeacherNet here

    "So, how much money do I get?"

    Fair point, I've still not answered the question. And it took a while to compare various sets of statistics...

    The two previous Standards Fund grants were worth a total £91m in 2007/8, and the new single grant is worth £237m in 2008/9, falling to £200m in 2009/10.

    The overall grant increases by 150% from £91m this year to £237m next year.

    This should therefore mean that your Harnessing Technology Grant, in the Standards Fund allocation for 2008/9 will increase by about 150%. It will vary authority to authority and school to school, but it certainly looks as if you should be building your plans for next year based on a substantial increase in IT budget.

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