These are exciting times.. again..

There are only a few times in education that have excited me with technology, the first was the launch of the ‘home micro-computer’ in the early 80’s.  Computers like the Sinclair Spectrum and the BBC Model B had a systematic change on a generation of students with using the technology and programming (as we called it then).

 

Remember when devices like this changed the way we work?
Remember when devices like this changed the way we work?

However I now believe we are back in those exciting times, which again means the advent and use of the technology in the classroom can really affect a generation and beyond. The power of cloud computing has the means and reach to affect everyone, and believe it has the same potential as those days in the 80’s when home computing took off.

Now we all probably use ‘the cloud’ on a daily basis, shopping on Amazon, playing on an Xbox One. However students are now seeing the ability in school to ‘work in the cloud’ using Office 365.   Who thought that a student would start a document in an IT suite, save it to OneDrive for Business, and then open it on an IPad  when they got home, and not have to reformat it, and then ‘share it’ with the teacher instead of printing – truly transformational times – using key 21st century skills in doing so.

We have seen teachers utilise the power of OneNote, the true hidden gem in Microsoft Office.   The idea of digital paper in the classroom, and the ability of those teachers to use OneNote Class Notebook Creator to look at student work and give dynamic feedback in the form of audio and video. Again who would have thought that these technologies would be available in  the classroom?   No more would teachers have to load there car up with textbooks to mark at home, simply by opening the Class Notebook the marking can begin.

Indeed who would have thought the big PC only companies like Microsoft, would be offering these technologies on Apple and Android platforms. Visionaries like Satya Nadella and Anthony Salcito are shaping Microsoft into a company that innovates across a complete generation of users.   A great example of this is the Microsoft Office 365 Proplus benefit, which means students, and teachers can download (for free) the latest version of Microsoft Office for use at home.  Suddenly the playing field is being levelled with the technology, allowing schools to get on with creating innovative teaching and learning both in and out of the classroom.  Do I see other companies affecting change like this ?  No I do not.

So you would think I live in this Utopia world of changing technology in the classroom?   Well kind of!.  At our school we use the cloud to give our students the best opportunities, however teachers still use desktop PC’s connected to IWB’s and only some students bring there own devices into the classroom.      So the final part of this jigsaw really is the hardware, aka the device, aka the tablet.

I've found that drawing spider diagrams in OneNote on my Surface using the pen has helped me to clearly map out ideas and key terms.
I’ve found that drawing spider diagrams in OneNote on my Surface using the pen has helped me to clearly map out ideas and key terms.

Up until now there has only ever been one device on the market which schools have adopted.  A truly revolutionary piece of technology and certainly has its place in the technology timeline.    Schools today especially primary schools still refer to a tablet as an Ipad, but lets look at how it really fits it into the classroom.

A true tablet, has an on screen keyboard, which when in use reduces the screen display (not good for typing that all important essay), or just trying to see the screen.   There is no natural typing position on the tablet, so you either lay it flat, or have to buy a carry case with a stand built into it.  Also the tablet tends to runs the same mobile operating system,  which again has some limitations in day to today use in the classroom.

Students should have a device that has the power of a desktop pc, the portability of a laptop and the flexibility of a tablet wrapped in one device. That is why as a school, we have decided to deploy the new Surface 3 from Microsoft in the classroom.

The Surface 3 fulfils all the needs of education and home
The Surface 3 fulfils all the needs of education and home

Why ?

We all need a why? in our life don’t we?    Why do we do the things we do!   Let me explain the why behind our decision of the Surface 3.

Price – I use a Surface Pro 3 in my day to day work. It has the power of a laptop in the size of a tablet and  simply changes the way I work.  I can run all of the enterprise software I expect to run, use a full size keyboard and have the added bonus of the Surface Pen with OneNote. However for a school the price point has been  simply to high for a mass rollout.  School principal Russell Boulton and Vice Principal Jonathan Rockey now use Surface Pro 3 for all aspects of school life, teaching, assemblies, management meetings – Surface is at the heart of it.

Surface is used by the management of the school
Looking beyond the tablet – Surface allow you to do so much more in school and out.

However Surface 3 addresses this  by coming in at a price point which is cheaper than a comparable  Ipad.

Size – smaller  and lighter than the Surface Pro3  we have noticed how students can simply fit the device straight into the school bag.

Typing position – Surface 3 has a three position kick stand, ideal for typing in the classroom, or using with the pen to take notes in OneNote. With the positive touch Surface keyboard  means Microsoft have learnt from the original type covers which took quite a bit of getting use to.

Windows 10 promises to bring a change in direction for Microsoft, and also technologies such as Hololens a real reality
Windows 10 promises to bring a change in direction for Microsoft, and also technologies such as Hololens a real reality

Its Windows 10 ready  – Surface is future proof, it doesn’t run a cut down version of Windows (goodbye Windows RT) or a mobile operating system, it runs a full version of Windows.  Install whatever software you are running on a PC,  Microsoft products, Adobe products, all enterprise grade software which students should have access to.

Also Surface 3 is Windows 10 ready, so in the home environment, you gain connectivity through to Xbox One  and are able to stream games  direct to you Surface.  After all its important to have down time as well.

Using the Surface Pen, students can take notes in real time as if they were writing into a text book
Using the Surface Pen, students can take notes in real time as if they were writing into a text book

The Surface Pen has been at the heart of many blogs.  In education we recognise the importance of the pen in the classroom.   It has been proven that the pen is ‘mightier than the keyboard’ in the fact the you will retain more by taking notes with a pen. Your brain will filter then information you need to jot down, rather than typing like for like.    The pen also allows you to brainstorm, annotate in no other way.     Added to this the superior inking technologies that have been available since the launch of the original Surface Pro, and in Windows 10 you can now annotate a webpages directly and share it through Project Spartan really means it establishes this device in the education arena for a new way of working.

Computer or Tablet?   like its big brother simply its both,   remove the keyboard, its a tablet. Want to type the essay, click, its a computer. Its simply the best of both worlds at an affordable device.

So remember Surface 3 is a great device for education, its not the holy grail. Simply go and buy loads of devices for your school does not mean results will improve or attendance will go up (as some companies will have you believe), its a part of the strategy of teaching and learning for your school. Added to services such as Office 365 in the classroom, and preparing students for a world where employers are looking for Microsoft Office skills for there high paid jobs – Surface 3 connects all of this with your students at an affordable price.

These are the reasons why Wymondham High Academy, have chosen the Surface 3 in the classroom, this has been done in starting at our end goal of improving teaching and learning in the classroom through technology – our device of choice is the last step.

surface 3 3

It would be wrong to say our journey will ever end however Surface 3 has just made it a whole lot better for students and teachers.  These really are exciting times.

 

Catch me at this years E2 Educator Forum in Redmond from the 28th April, or follow the Wymondham journey with Surface by following @kevin_sait

 

 

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Why every school should have an Xbox

xbox_one_3

Its amazing when you put the right tools or the correct opportunities in front of young students how creative they can be.  One of these tools that ‘inspire’ creation is Project Spark from Microsoft.  I first came across Project Spark  at the Bett Show this year when it was in Beta. Microsoft’s Stuart Ball @innovativeteach  kindly gave me a beta code to try it out.   Spark for those who don’t know is a gaming environment that covers, creation, game play, programming and most importantly student  imagination!    Project Spark is available as a Windows Store download for Windows 8.1, (however you will need a Core I5 to run it).

Project Spark like its younger sibling Kodu, puts the world of coding and computational thinking in the hands of students, by giving them the ability to see the results in a world they understand. For example the ability to make a game and play it with an Xbox controller, shows a student a real tangible result.

Project Spark starts you off in a ‘blank world’ allowing you to place your ‘hero’ on the screen and then you begin to program, which in itself is nothing new.  Project Spark simply catches the student imagination, in creating worlds, programming, inventing gameplay and producing something that can be played on a modern day console rather than just a school desktop PC.

Apart from being creative, there is an important coding aspect to Project Spark. Every item has a programmable brain.
Apart from being creative, there is an important coding aspect to Project Spark. Every item has a programmable brain.

Get started by placing your hero on a blank world and chose to use a preset ‘brain’ or code one from scratch, using simple when & do statements.

Your hero can soon interact with other props and characters in your game through simple coding.

Add further detail to your hero through the character studio to personalise your avatar.

 

As well as building awesome worlds, Project Spark caters for the coding community with easy coding commands
As well as building awesome worlds, Project Spark caters for the coding community with easy coding commands

Students can easily get to grips in controlling there hero character with simple When & Do style coding.   When I use the controller  Do something.    Remember characters can be coded but also props can be coded, so they can interact with other items.   You can also power items so for example switches can supply power to doors, or lights.

So you can code in Project Spark! The magic happens in creating a world in which to play, this is where students can build games which look like and behave like top releases.  Painting the world allows so much creativity, and the software will put the finishing touches.  For example paint a cave and over hanging foliage is automatically put in.

 

Spark student imagination b y creating awesome worlds and the kode different items.
Spark student imagination b y creating awesome worlds and the kode different items.

You see really awesome creations are in the hands of students to inspire them to code and be creative through Project Spark.

Project Spark is available on Windows 8 PC’s through the Windows Store, and also on the Xbox One. It is also set to make an appearance on the Xbox 360.

So should your school have an Xbox to inspire students to code?    Yes I think so, students who can showcase work on recognised platforms will tend to want to develop it further and also gain valuable feedback from peers.

Computer Science should inspire  students to want to code and its tools like Project Spark which will allow this to happen in the classroom.

For more information http://projectspark.com

Follow Stuart Ball @innovativeteach on Twitter