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September, 2011 - 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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September, 2011

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    SharePoint 2010 and Parental Engagement at Blatchington Mill School

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    Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft took a visit to Blatchington Mill School, down in Hove to see their work on SharePoint and parental engagement. Here in his own words details his trip.

    I took the opportunity recently to visit Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form College, a very large (1800 students 11 – 18) comprehensive in Hove, to renew contact with Assistant Head Mark Leighton. I wanted to talk to him about the school’s longstanding work with Microsoft SharePoint and particularly his plans for migrating to SharePoint 2010.

    Mark Leighton Blatchington Mill School (3)

     

    Mark’s done excellent work at Blatchington Mill over several years, using SharePoint as the preferred basis upon which to build and develop Blatchington Mill School (BMS) Portal – an integrated platform for handling communication, information and resources. Though clearly a whole school environment for learning, the portal is also very much a response to requests from parents for good online access to information. Now, as well as the government defined basic data on attendance, attainment and reporting (through embedding Capita' SIMS Learning Gateway inside the BMS Portal) parents can find, in their own section of the portal, information on supporting their child, for example, teaching materials, lesson topics and schedules, assignments and test dates, revision materials and a personal online homework diary maintained by their child’s teachers. They can also view colour coded progress charts for each child in each subject they study, tracking their journey through a key stage towards their ultimate target grades.

    The BMS Portal began life in SharePoint 2003, then moved to SharePoint 2007 and when I visited the school, at the start of the 2011 summer holidays, the latest version, “BMS 360” was nearing completion in SharePoint 2010.

    All the proven key features, as you’d expect, are maintained in the new version, but now there’s an even more attractive home page with log in access for the community, students, parents, staff and governors.

    Parents, in particular, will be pleased by what they find. Up to now it’s been up to teachers to make curriculum information available on the parent portal. Now, though, from, September, parents will find that they can click straight through to the school’s curriculum subject sites on the same terms as the students.

    “For example if a parent wants to see what their Year Eight child is doing in maths, there’s a link in the parent portal taking them straight to the maths curriculum site. They can see current topics, revision materials, what kind of testing is planned. And that’s the result of a direct request by parents.” – Mark Leighton

    There’s always been a real effort at Blatchington Mill to keep parents coming back to the portal, and there’s no doubt that providing easy access into the heart of the curriculum is going to be a real driver for increased engagement.

    As the latest version of Capita’s Sims Learning Gateway is also being installed into the new BMS 360 over the summer, the total effect should be a considerably enhanced service to parents.

    Development won’t stop there, though and a further step for Mark and his colleagues during the coming year is to make the already accessible basic MIS data more useful. “We want to rework it and analyse it for parents. What they tell us they want is more detail on progress and targets.”

    As well as this there are plans to include parents in pastoral work individually with their children and tutors through the online system.

    Paying attention to parents has been a priority at Blatchington Mill for some years. In 2009 the school was one of five featured in Microsoft parental engagement case studies, and Mark Leighton’s work with Sims Learning Gateway is also frequently referenced by Capita.

    In that 2009 Microsoft case study, Blatchington Mill’s head, Janet Felkin said  “An effective home-school partnership is essential to a child’s achievement in the classroom.”

    (At the last Ofsted inspection, in Spring 2010, the school was judged “outstanding” on engagement with parents and carers.)

    There’s no doubt that the school is still driven by that principle, which is why Mark Leighton will be working during the summer to ensure that SharePoint 2010 can provide an even better than usual “back to school” experience for parents and students.

    A schools blog post  in August 2010 discusses parental engagement issues and provides links to the five MS parental engagement case studies, both video and pdf.

    You can see Mark Leighton in this Capita parental engagement video

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Looking for the Next BRIT thing – now open for entries…

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    Posted on behalf of Radiowaves, Microsoft UK Education Partner:

    Next BRIT thing – www.nextbritthing.com

    Next BRIT thing is a national music competition for all 11-19 year olds in UK running between September 2011 and March 2012.

    clip_image001

    Young people are invited to upload their audio or video performances to the Next BRIT thing website now. The tracks with the most votes will go to an industry panel who will invite the best to perform live at 6 regional finals. A panel of artists and industry experts will choose the best to perform at the national live final in March. Any style of music can be entered, including cover versions. Entries can be submitted by individuals, groups, orchestras etc.

    There are two performance categories ‘general’ and ‘classical’. And a separate song writing/composition category supported by PRS for Music.

    Next BRIT thing is supported by Department for Education and Department for Culture Media and Sport. It is managed by the BPI and delivered by a partnership including Radiowaves.

    NBT has the support of government ministers, regional assemblies and MPs. It has a media partnership with Metro and Global Radio as well as endorsement from many music and education organisations.

    Next BRIT thing is now open for entries.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Do any of your students want to become the next Bill Gates?

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    Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011

    For the last 10 years, Microsoft have held the prestigious Imagine Cup, a competition open to students around the world to use technology, creativity and knowledge to help solve global issues and make a difference in the world.

     

    Recently Software4Students interviewed 2011 winners ‘’Team Hermes’’, made up of four students from Sligo IT; Aíne Conaghan, Calum Cawley, Matthew Padden and James McNamara. The team’s lead software developer, James McNamara, provides some valuable information for those who wish to become the next MS Imagine Cup winner. of 4 students from Sligo, Ireland focussing on their initial thoughts of the competition, involvement and experience overall.

     Software4Students (S4S): Hi James! First of all congratulations to you and your team on winning Microsoft´s Imagine Cup 2011! It´s been almost two months since you won, how has your journey been so far? Team Hermes Celebrates

    James: It’s been amazing, and very busy! The Imagine Cup gave us the opportunity to take a nugget of an idea, develop it and present it to a global audience. The solution’ s development was a very intense process and a great learning experience for four students to go through, and especially getting the feedback and insight you can receive through the Imagine Cup. Winning the competition has enabled us to learn even more, like learning how to work with the media (they are all, of course, very nice people!), how to pitch a product in a business environment and make great contacts.

    S4S:Could you give us a brief overview on what your project consisted of?

     James: Our solution monitors and evaluates driving behaviour and provides real time feedback to both the driver and a third party. It consists of three main parts. Firstly, we have an in-car device, which plugs into the car. This monitors the driver’s behaviour and evaluates their performance. If the driver behaves poorly, the device alarms, much like a seat belt alarm. This monitored data is sent to and stored on the Azure cloud. Secondly, this data displayed on a Silverlight website using Bing Maps, which sections of a completed journey colour coded depending on the drivers behaviour. Thirdly, if any dangerous driving behaviour is recorded updates are sent to our “vehicle owner” mobile app. So in essence, through making drivers aware of their dangerous driving habits they can use the tools we provide to make themselves a safer driver, and safer drivers mean safer roads.


    S4S: Wow, sounds amazing! So where did your idea come from?


    James: Road deaths are a huge problem in Ireland, especially in the North West, and we wanted to build a system that would reduce road traffic accidents. The initial idea was for the development of a pot-hole monitoring system. We believed that if authorities were aware of, and fixed the bad roads, it would improve safety. We realized that the real problem with road safety was not roads but drivers, and from there the idea evolved. We designed a system that is globally adaptable and scalable, as this is a global problem.


    S4S:It certainly is. So you had the problem and the solution, what approach did you take on developing the project?


    James: We wanted a massively scalable architecture as this was global solution. So we decided on implementing a cloud solution. We also wanted an easily deliverable solution, so decided on using a phone app and a web app. The most efficient way of implementing this type of solution we found was with Azure, as the homogeneous nature of the Microsoft products meant we could develop the system very quickly. So we built our SQL Azure database, built our WCF services to transport and parse data and fronted ended it with Silverlight. Silverlight was great as we could copy and paste a lot of code from the Windows Phone apps to the web app and vice versa, especially the mapping code as they both supports Bing Maps. Our in car device runs the .Net Micro framework so that could simply consume the WCF services. Apart from some tricky work with the communication from the device to the cloud, it all work perfectly.


    S4S:Well it certainly worked for you and your team. So tell us - what are Team Hermes’ plans for the future?


    James: The plans are big! We plan to set up a company shortly to commercialize the product. We have received a lot of positive feedback from the business community and the public in general, there seems to be a real desire out there to see this product on the shelves. The feeling is that this product really could save lives on the roads, and if we could deliver on this it would be amazing! We have received massive support from our college IT Sligo, and especially the Innovation Centre based there and also Microsoft Ireland.

     
    S4S: We wish you the best of luck with it too! For those students out there who dream of winning the Imagine Cup, what advice would you give them?

    Imagine Cup 2011 Winners
    James: The best advice I can give is to find a topic you have real passion for, and give it all you’ve got. Don’t get too vague, focus on a problem and build the solution around being able to deliver tangible results. Also, remember that for a project to deliver real change it needs to sustain itself through generating revenue, so don’t forget the business side. We found having an interdisciplinary team was a huge boost, especially having a business/marketing student; the idea is no good unless you can sell it!


    S4S:What are your 3 favourite software applications from Microsoft and why?

     
    James: Visual Studio 2010. I am a programmer, VS is my life! I’ve use a good few development environments but the sheer power of VS is impressive. And, dare is say it…it’s pretty! The second one is Zune. I started using it when I moved to Windows Phone. It’s very nice to use and nice too look at, which is important for a media player! Thirdly, although it is not strictly a piece of software, the Windows Phone OS. I have been using Windows Phone for a while and I love it. Very smart and stylish, functional and since all Imagine Cup finalists are getting a free one off Microsoft, it’s at the right price!


    S4S: How important do you think school life is for enhancing pupils’ digital skillsets?


    James: It’s huge. The need for exposure to as much digital technology as possible is school is ever increasing. Technology is becoming ubiquitous in the work place, from the move away from a paper based environment to technology like slate PCs and touch devices to the huge increase in smart phones and the constant emergence of new technology, students emerging from the academic world into the workplace need to have a firm grasp on technology, regardless of their industry.


    S4S: As you know, we are dedicated to offering software with huge discounts for students to help bridge the digital divide. What else do you think is important to encourage students to use and develop their skills in technology?


     James: Affordable software is a huge benefit to students. Being one myself I know the challenges of being able to acquire software, so what Software4Students are doing is great. Students need to be made aware that there are massive benefits in developing their skills in technology. Currently in Ireland we are experiencing a surge in jobs in the software development industry and also have a huge lack of graduates in the industry. This just shows there are real tangible benefits in looking to development of technological skills, not just as a means to an end but a goal in itself.


     

    If you think any of your students would be interested in entering the Microsoft Imagine cup 2012, registrations can be made here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Saving money with Microsoft School in a Box

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    Still striving to find ways to help cost save in schools, the new School in a Box is software-as-a-service (SaaS) providing infrastructure from a Microsoft cloud giving opportunities to deliver ICT in a new way. Not only are significant cost savings made as cloud technology means the school only pays for the technology  it uses, the concept of having flexibility to how schools can now teach students over a range of devises from laptops and desktops in school by using  SaaS, operating from across the internet with no requirement to any software installation, also saving time.

    West London Free School is one of the countries first free school’s to pilot Microsoft’s School in a Box scheme. ComputerWeekly.com recently reported on the schools move and why they chose IT in the Cloud.

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