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July, 2013 - 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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July, 2013

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    International Dance Contests… in PE? Skype Helps Make Gym Fun!


    Originally posted on the Skype Social Good Blog.

    Most of us don’t think of gym teachers as creative types—except maybe when it comes to the number of laps they make you run. Good news! Times have definitely changed. Innovative teachers, teamed with technology like Skype, are making phys-ed fun. (You won’t see anyone faking stomach aches because they want to sit on the sidelines!)

    Jon Tait, a Skype in the classroom champion teacher with a passion for sports, has pioneered using Skype to challenge his students in new ways—both academically and physically.

    Jon wears many hats: assistant head teacher at Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham (UK) and a physical education teacher.  He was an Olympic torchbearer for the London 2012 Olympic Games chosen because of his dedication to teaching. As a result, he’s been a popular guest speaker on the Skype in the classroom website, telling classrooms around the world the story of his selection as a torchbearer.


    We spoke to Jon to find out how teachers can use Skype to motivate their students to be active team players.

    Could you tell us more about how you have used Skype to encourage physical activity amongst your students?

    I set up an international network of PE teachers on Twitter called @PEgeeks. A teacher from Wisconsin, Matthew Pomeroy contacted me to ask if I would like to take part in an international dance project with his students. Initially we thought we would send each other videos of our dances and then judge them. Then I had the idea of doing it live on Skype, which was so exciting. Our students learned different dances before the contest. On the day of the event, we set up computers, webcams and projectors in our gyms. We divided our kids into groups and they danced for each other on Skype. We also set up an online poll for the students so they were able to vote for their favourite dances with their cell phones. It was incredible to watch. I live-tweeted about it and it garnered so much attention from the online teaching community. Everyone wanted to get involved.

    Why do you think Skype is a good tool for teaching physical education?

    My Skype dance project was accomplished because of a strong desire to break down traditional boundaries.  What Skype contributed was that kind of X Factor that children respond to so well. You can also use Skype to bring experts into your classroom, such as professional athletes and coaches.

    What do you think makes a successful PE lesson?

    It is really important to truly engage your students, keep them active and excited. Nowadays students are able to monitor each other’s progress by recording their performance and playing it back with various devices, which helps them gain confidence.

    We did a Skype jump rope lesson during which students from the USA coached my students. It was so exciting to see the children learned from each other despite the geographical distance. Jump rope is now being taught at Woodham Academy thanks to this Skype lesson.

    Which sports are fun to play and learn on Skype?

    Sports that are usually played indoors are best because you need a reliable Internet connection. Activities that require artistic replication, like dancing, jump rope, gymnastics, trampoline jumping or yoga are better for Skype lessons because they can easily be followed online. A team sport might be harder, but that does not mean you can’t take certain skills from those games and teach them via Skype.

    How do you convey your enthusiasm for sport to students?

    Being an Olympic torchbearer means that I have a lifelong responsibility to spread the Olympic message around the world. I teach students about the Olympic values – respect, excellence and friendship I want to teach young people how they can achieve all three in their daily lives.

    Thanks to Skype in the classroom, I have spoken to schools all around the world about my Olympic torchbearer experience. I have connected with students in Pakistan as well as homeless students in Oklahoma. Not only did we talk about the Olympic Games, we also talked about life in our countries – food, cars, even One Direction!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Education Empowered: 'Education shouldn't have to settle for duct tape'


    Showcasing multitasking, the power to create content across all the devices you care about and the ability to run multiple profiles on a single device, the series of Education Empowered videos on the new site share some useful themes that are important to consider when looking at the technology that you are looking to deploy within your institution.

    A selection are shown below. The video featuring Turbo is my personal favourite!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Education Empowered: 'Built for education'


    Continuing with the series of Education Empowered themed posts, I just wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the 'Built for Education' related content on the site.


    Whether it's showing how Windows 8 can help make learning more personal or how Office 365 education is helping students to connect with whomever, wherever, the 'Built for Education' pages give a great overview of how a combination of Windows 8, Office 365 education, Apps and Devices are helping to transform learning and built 21st Century Skills.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Education Empowered


    We are excited to announce that our new online resource for students, educators and IT professionals, Education Empowered, is now available.


    Education Empowered is packed full of hints, tips and advice around how technology can make the biggest impact within your institution. New stories and tips will be added on a regular basis and the site also includes a useful set of comparisons to help you choose the right service or device for your needs.

    From a personal perspective, my favourite part of the new site are the videos. With great video stories from educators discussing how they are using the Surface Pro, for example, to inspire over 400 learners and some fun content showing some of the unique features of Windows 8 in education (got to love Turbo), we look forward to developing and enhancing the content on the site over the coming weeks and months.

    Be sure to bookmark the site and let us know what you think as we add new content aligned to Windows 8, Office 365 Education and more.

    A couple of the videos mentioned are shown below and we will be posting additional video material from the site to the blog over the next week.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Storage Spaces: A simple and elegant backup management solution within Windows 8


    Regardless of whether you are an educator, student or IT professional, backing up and securing your data is key. Within Windows 8, there is now a great new feature, called Storage Spaces, that allows you, via a simple UI, to create, manage and maintain your backup environments. Both internal and external drives can be used with Storage Spaces and the short video below demonstrates how to setup your first Storage Space, create a Storage Pool, create two Storage Spaces, and more.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Importance of Mobility in Education and App of the Week


    Originally posted on the Daily Edventures Blog.

    The ability to learn wherever, whenever – mobility – is one of the most important aspects of ensuring that more students throughout the world have access to a quality education. Here at Daily Edventures, we talk a lot about the new era of digital learning, and adapting the classroom to the world of today’s digital native learners.  In the words of alum Lou Zulli Jr., “As teachers today, we have to set them free. To create, to experience, to fail. Students want to make a difference, but they can’t if they are sitting in a class of rows learning like it’s the 19th century.”  I’m proud to say that Windows 8 is one of the best ways to create an immersive learning environment, regardless of where a student may be – in a classroom, at home, or on their phone. If you’re interested in learning more about how Windows 8 can make your classroom mobile, check out these great videos, tutorials and learning activities on the Partners in Learning Network. While you’re there, join the Partners in Learning Network, and enter to win a trip to Barcelona – the Mobile World Capital – for the 2014 Global Forum.

    And speaking of learning whenever – summer vacation in full swing throughout many parts of the world. But that doesn’t mean that students need to stop learning. We have some great games-based apps that can engage students all summer long. Our Windows 8 App of the Week, Learn to Play: Dinosaur Chess, is a fun way to teach students chess, which develops math skills and helps build the all-important 21st century skill of critical thinking.

    The company’s founder, Paul Shafi, has been a chess player since childhood, playing at school and club level in and around Dundee, Scotland. The experience of teaching his young son to play the game inspired him to develop Dinosaur Chess. As the name suggests, the game is set in the age of the dinosaurs. It is designed for the absolute beginner, and turns chess into a fun and inspiring activity. Dinosaur Chess was nominated for a BAFTA for best interactive learning. Enjoy!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Windows Phone 8 Development for Absolute Beginners (great for educators and students starting out on their Windows Phone 8 app development journey)


    Originally posted on the Windows Phone Developer Blog.

    We initially launched Windows Phone 7 Development for Absolute Beginners back in November 2010 with the intent of providing the completely new developer with information about the basic tools necessary to build a meaningful Windows Phone app. We hadn’t expected it to become one of the most popular series we’ve ever produced on Channel 9! Time and again, we’ve heard from beginners and experienced developers alike, that the series does an amazing job of laying out Windows Phone development in a way that’s useful for developers at many different stages in the learning cycle, not just beginners.


    We’re now excited to announce a complete refresh to this series: Windows Phone 8 Development for Absolute Beginners! Since we created our Windows Phone 7 course, Bob Tabor has published a course on C#, and this freed him up to create a completely new course entirely focused on teaching a very wide set of the key foundational concepts and developer scenarios behind delivering outstanding Windows Phone apps. This means that if you truly are brand new to software development, you really will want to watch Bob’s series on C# Fundamentals before starting our Windows Phone 8 series.

    We spared no expense in revamping this course. You’ll find the full sample code for the series online now on CodePlex at, and we’ll also be publishing a full 419-page lab manual that documents the entire course with code samples and screenshots. We’ll update this download location when it’s available.

    The new course for Windows Phone 8 gives you all the basic information you need to build and publish outstanding Windows Phone apps. It will walk you through, in detail:

    • Basics of installing and working with Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Phone, and the Windows Phone Emulator
    • XAML layout and events for Windows Phone
    • How to use many of the phone’s built in features and additional open source libraries
    • Building two complete store-worthy apps
    • Localization for your app
    • Using mapping and location in your app
    • Retrieving data from a web service using the new portable class library version of HttpClient
    • Creating a background agent

    We hope you enjoy this great resource! Happy coding!

    Larry Lieberman

    Tweet to @LarryALieberman

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    UK team from University of Exeter - Crowned World Wide Imagine Cup Winners


    Originally posted on the UK Faculty Connection Blog.

    Thursday 11th July was a proud day for the UK and University of Exeter.

    Team Colinked with their app SoundSYNK competed against top teams from over 190 countries, beating everyone to win the coveted prize of $50,000 and the title of ‘Imagine Cup Winner’!

    The Imagine Cup is a Microsoft Global app competition, bringing together some of the world’s brightest student technologists, who all compete to try and win cash prizes, trophies and the title.

    This year there were over 750,000 entries worldwide, with each country choosing one team that will represent them on the worldwide stage, and those finalist teams then battle it out to win the top prize.

    The UK have never won the Imagine cup thus far in its 10 years of existence, and have rarely made it past the first round. But this year it was all about to change…


    On February 15th, four students came together to form what could be a real game changer in the Windows Store space. It all started at an Imagine Cup regional event. Teams from around the country came together, all hoping to create award winning apps in the space of 48 hours. With a trip to St Petersburg, Russia, and $50,000 at stake, competition was stiff, and teams weren’t taking things lightly. It was at this event that SoundSYNK were born.

    Meet team Colinked and their app SoundSYNK all from University of Exeter (from left to right):

    Jonathan Neumann (Programmer), Masters in History, 4th Year (Erasmus Scheme)
    Robert Parker (Programmer), Computer science and Mathematics, 2nd year
    Alex Bochenski (Business), Business and Economics, 2nd year
    Edward Noel (Business), Mechanical engineering, 2nd year

    Colinked with SoundSYNK started the competition not knowing each other, but all had the dream of learning how to create and deploy an app into store and with the more important aspiration of winning big money! But who knew that just by randomly sitting together at the start of a day, would equal the creation of a dream team! Read the team’s story here.


    Their idea is simple, take a bunch of Windows Phones, link them together, and then play content in perfect harmony across the network of devices. You may think you have seen this kind of thing all before, in the case of the new Galaxy S4 ‘Group play’, or Sono, but SoundSYNK’s app will completely change the way you listen to music as a group. 

    The app utilizes Bluetooth creating a mesh-network that has more bandwidth than simply connecting devices over Wifi. By utilizing their backend- technology and Azure, they can stream music to an unlimited number of devices. In reality, what this means is you could be in the middle of nowhere, listening to all the music you want with as many people as you want in perfect harmony. The team put forward a scenario for you:

    ‘Imagine you were at a festival, you have come back to your tent, after watching some amazing acts, and all you want is for the party to continue. You want to blast some music, but your singular phones are just not loud enough. Imagine if you could play the songs you want, from as many devices as you want in perfect synchrony… Welcome to SoundSYNK’


    The team have come up with some revolutionary technology, and they are sure to be the future Zuckerberg’s of the World. Their app is set to come out on all platforms at the end of August, debuting their app on stage at Reading Festival with Basement Jaxx. They will be throwing their music out to the masses all from one phone! Keep your eyes peeled… This app is the next big thing!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Thoughts on the KoduKup


    Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft education series of blogs.

    On Friday 5th July, was I fortunate to be at Microsoft’s Thames Valley Park HQ when the eleven teams of young finalists of the UK’s first KoduKup competition presented their games to the judges . It was an inspirational occasion that captured the respect and admiration of all the adults who were there. The event itself is well described in the various enthusiastic blogs recording the details -- the brilliant teams who came first, second and third, what they won (cool stuff!) who the judges were. There’s this Teachers’ Blog with some great images. Also on the Schools Blog and this personal and enthusiastic account by teacher Nicki Maddams (@GeekyNicki) who worked on the organisation of the competition and was a judge at the finals.


    Reflecting on Creativity

    I’ve had a little more thinking time, than those early bloggers, which gives me the opportunity to reflect on some of the wider issues around Kodu in general, and the KoduKup in particular. So, for instance, having spotted Jan Webb, ICT Consultant with the ICT Association ‘NAACE’, at the event, I called her next day to collect her own take on what we’d seen and on Kodu itself. For her, yes, it was about programming, but she was at least as interested in the wider aspects – creativity, cross-curricular work, innovative ways of learning.

    ‘Kodu’s a really creative way of addressing some of the meat of the national curriculum. It helps self-directed learning, but in a supported way.’

    Jan was particularly interested to see how the teams had explored possibilities, prepared both to tackle obstacles and go around them.

    ‘One of the most powerful things that one of those children said was that they weren’t afraid of getting things wrong. Now that’s an important message about creativity and computing -- that it’s OK not to get it right first time. That’s what computer programmers do’

    That word ‘creativity’ constantly crops up in any educational discussion. To many teachers, though, it sounds off-puttingly vague. ‘OK, I have to be creative. But what do I actually have to do when I go into the classroom?’

    What’s needed, of course, is a framework, a starting point. That’s what you get with Kodu, which begins with the creation of a world. That’s always going to be a winner for children. When I was at school, my headteacher told my mother that I was too often in a world of my own. But don’t all children yearn for other worlds? To be able build one with Kodu that’s your own, different from everyone else’s, is the start of a big adventure because your world then becomes the setting for your own story. It’ll be a great story, too, with tricks, traps, frustrations and bits that make you laugh. You can build it on your own, or you can work with your classmates. On the way you realise that no project proceeds calmly from start to finish. So you will argue about it, change it, chuck it out and start again if needs be, and then yell and high-five each other when it finally works just as you wanted. (Well, almost anyway)

    Broadening the Reach

    Think about that, and it becomes clear that Kodu can reach across the curriculum and to all children. Talking to ICT teachers at the KoduKup Final, I found some who are already in contact with other subject leaders, because it’s difficult to think of a curriculum area that couldn’t be enhanced by Kodu– geography, English, science, maths, history.

    Importantly, too, Kodu is inclusive. At the KoduKup final we saw young people from early primary school to the top of secondary, girls and boys. Children with special needs were there, too, although the judges didn’t know that. Why should they?

    The event was won by a team of girls – ‘Artemis’, from Afon Taf High School In fact the gender balance of the whole event was hugely encouraging for anyone keen to see computing and gaming demolishing the ‘male geek’ stereotype. ‘Artemis’, in fact, showed a wonderful ‘geek’ image to illustrate that point, and were able, without banging a drum, to get that message across by building into their presentation their wish to inspire more girls to enter the gaming industry. They made a point of asking the judges about this.

    Engagement, passion and commitment

    Whatever the results of the competition, there’s no doubt that Kodu is a winner with students and teachers. ‘There are no behaviour management issues,’ said Ingrid Noland, ICT teacher at Walthamstow Academy. ‘Except when you tell them it’s time to stop.’

    And Stacey Freeman, teacher at Barlows Primary, says,

    ‘They love it to the point where they asked us how to get it at home, and a lot of the ones who have internet access have downloaded it.’

    In fact the typical pattern for a KoduKup team is that they will have worked on Kodu in class, and then taken it forward out of school hours, either in a club or at home.

    ‘They’re often back in my room at lunchtime,’ says Ingrid Nolan.

    So here’s a bona-fide, core curriculum resource that children want more and more of. Clearly the challenge is for teachers to catch that tide and make it work not just for computing but for learning as a whole. Stacey Freeman of Barlows Primary encourages children to run development diaries of what’s gone well in their games development.

    ‘They start to ask ‘what if?’ questions. We’re trying to develop them as problem solvers not just to learn to programme for computer science.’

    It Really is about Coding

    At heart, of course, Kodu is about programming – ‘coding’, using a highly accessible visual language. For many teachers that’s going to be the number one reason for looking at it, given the requirements of the revised National Curriculum. Stuart Ball, Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers Programme Manager, who displayed his teaching roots by hosting the KoduKup final in finely judged, learner-centred style, makes the point that Kodu isn’t in competition with other programming tools.

    ‘But there’s no cost involved, and it offers some features that perhaps others don’t. The learning curve for teachers isn’t very steep, and learners adapt quickly to it.’

    The evidence is, though, that Kodu users really are learning, almost without realising it, some fundamental coding principles. Stuart finds that higher level students and programmers easily see that.

    ‘When I show it to graduates they’re blown away, and wish they’d had it when they started, and say that it will bring youngsters into the industry.’

    I had first hand confirmation of that in the encounter I had during the event with Tom Morris, who’s just graduating in computer games technology from John Moores University. Tom, who has been working with children at Barlows Primary School in Liverpool, told me how impressed he was with Kodu, how he’d seen children becoming ‘code literate’, and reaping other benefits, in maths, physics and general problem solving and communication skills.

    ‘If I’d been able to use it when I was younger it would have improved my skills. I started programming at eighteen and it was difficult to grasp. It’s like learning a foreign language -- if you start young, it’s easier.’

    That said, Kodu isn’t just for people who are going to go into professional coding. We live in a world where everyone comes into contact with computer software, and to have no inkling at all of what’s involved is to be at a disadvantage whether as a consumer, a customer, a participant in a meeting, a worker briefed on a new task.

    ‘It’s a broad church now,’ said judge Gary Carr, Creative Director at games studio ‘Lionhead’, when I interviewed him before the event, ‘Part of everyday life.’

    That’s Kodu, then – potentially adding value across the whole curriculum, preparing young people for life, work and leisure.

    The KoduKup journey, though, introduces an extra dimension, a set of new, very 21st Century skills and challenges, to do with teamwork and presentation. The task for the teams was to present their game, ‘Dragons Den’ style, to the judging panel as if to a potential publisher. When I spoke to Gary Carr he was looking forward to seeing how the children met what to him seemed a big challenge.

    ‘It’ll be interesting. Developers are not necessarily comfortable with presenting. They can be quiet, introverted, thinking about stories.’

    But these developers, of course, were children, free from too many inhibitions, and though some of the younger ones had to find reserves of courage – which they did magnificently -- all of them stepped up and performed and were warmly congratulated. They used imaginative blends of video, live talk, mock-interview in a way that should have made some of the teachers and professional presenters in the audience feel a little uncomfortable.

    Finding the right tune

    I found myself frequently replaying the KoduKup Final in my mind over the following days, because I knew there was a familiar feel to it. Then I realised what it was.

    For a number of years I was a regional and national adjudicator with the National Festival of Music for Youth (NFMY). So many of the messages from that superb event, I realise, were – are – similar to those that were in the air at the KoduKup final. There’s the finely judged combination of competitiveness, good-hearted mutual support, and celebration. Most striking of all, there’s the humbling realisation, in both cases of just how limitless are the capabilities of our children, given the right balance of guidance and freedom, and space to grow. Just as music provides a framework for sublime acts of creativity so a programming language opens up similarly boundless possibilities.

    ‘We Could Do That’.

    I don’t want to push the analogy much further, but I will make one further point, which is that the NFMY, which began in quite a small way in 1971, has grown to the point where it involves 60,000 young people aged 4 to 21 across the UK each year. On the way, it’s created a mighty rolling ‘We could do that!’ effect across thousands of schools and teachers and millions of young people. There’s no doubt that the KoduKup competition will grow in the same way if it becomes annual. Currently, not enough people know enough about Kodu, or about the KoduKup. There’s no doubt, though, that as time goes on they certainly will. Any teacher or school leader – and, more to the point, any student -- who observes the work of the entrants, whether online or at an event, is going to say, ‘We could do that!’

    And there are, of course, lots of reasons why they should.

    You want to know how to ‘do’ creativity? Look no further.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    BETT 13 Opening Ceremony Keynote: Anthony Salcito (VP, Worldwide Public Sector - Education)


    Anthony Salcito’s BETT 13 Opening Ceremony keynote on technology, innovation and education.


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