Microsoft Educator Community – its your best weapon!

You want your school to be the best right?, you want it to be innovative amongst its peers, above all you want to engage students, and give teachers the confidence that they can use technology in the classroom effectively. School leaders want to see that the investment from ever decreasing budgets in technology will be use to bring beneficial out comes in the classroom.  So how do we bring this all together and stop the ‘ we need to buy that mentality’, which we have seen where schools put the technology first and then decide what to do with it after.

Well I would like to bring your attention to the new  Microsoft Education Community   http://education.microsoft.com .  Chances are you might not have heard about it before.  I guess this is really the vision of Anthony Salcito from Microsoft who has created this resource as a one stop shop for transformative change at all levels in schools.  This resource is only a couple of months old and is packed with numerous resources, built by educators, for educators.  It is also the centrepiece for Skype In The Classroom, the ability for educators to connect with other educators or organise virtual field trips to pretty much any location in the world.  Above all its free ! – you don’t have to buy a Microsoft product to use it – but it will be beneficial to everyone in education

As educators we are very much aware of the range of devices in the classroom, we know students can bring there own, (and probably already do in your school), but where we allow this technology and then simply overlay traditional teaching methods means there is no benefit to students or teachers.

Check this video clip about becoming an innovative school

As you can see the simple part is the technology, how we use the technology to the benefit of teaching and learning and those all important outcomes is the end goal.   This is why the resources at the Microsoft Educator Community are so important.   Its not a sales pitch, its educators telling educators how to get the best from the software they are using.

However the community doesn’t just cover educators in the classroom, technology strategy is driven from a teaching and learning strategy, it doesn’t lead it.  So there are some awesome resources which ask key questions from School leaders about moving there school forward.

mec 2In the Technology planning resources you will find information on things like ‘Establishing your vision’, absolutely crucial to working out what technology you need to buy!

As school leaders this section will show how to implement 21st century pedagogies in the classroom can be achieved through effective planning before hand.

Again this is all mapped with real world examples of schools which have already on the journey and completed it.

There is also a section about the Microsoft Showcase Schools program. This is now in its second year and expanding, Showcase Schools partner with Microsoft and have unprecedented access to resources and the mainstay  of the Microsoft Innovative Educators in the UK.

There are four courses on the MEC which relate to the UNESCO ICT Framework certification, giving educators the confidence in what they can deliver with technology in the classroom.  These courses are

  • Teaching with Technology Basics
  • Teaching with Technology
  • 21st Century Learning Design
  • Microsoft in the Classroom

However there are also courses on OneNote, Sway, Social Media, Flipping the Classroom which you can learn anytime and anywhere.

For educators we recognise that a day on a computer course when you have so much else going on is not productive for anyone.   So MEC course are broken down into easy bit size chunks of learning, giving you the opportunity to put into practise the bits you learnt.   Courses you complete in the MEC are aligned to digital badges so you can show colleagues the amount you have completed.

mec badges

Here are the badges I have earned so far in the short time I have been on the MEC, the third one is for being part of the Skype-a-thon earlier this year!

The Skype-a-thon was arranged in the MEC, connect with other global educators at a convenient time and introduce your students to different cultures, or maybe  collaborate on a project, or indeed be part of a virtual field trip.

The value for students to connect with other students and understanding different cultures has been well documented elsewhere.

Now we have the ability to take part in virtual field trips and talk to explorers and authors directly to get first hand access to topics that the students are studying.  By choosing Find A Lesson in the Educators section you can easily find your self transporting your class to a field trip in the South Pole.

mec 4

Click on register for the virtual field trip is what it takes to be part of the action of this field trip for the Arctic Live 2016.

Of course you may wish to share your knowledge with other educators, so you can upload your resources and share them with other educators around the world.

I hope this small insight into this super educational resource is enough to make you sign up and explore more, from Senior Leaders planning for transformational change to teachers taking kids on virtual field trips – its all at your finger tips.

To sign up goto http://education.microsoft.com    connect with me !

Remember  be brave – make change in you school – join the Educator Community today

 

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Welcome to the BBC Micro:Bit

Its 1982 and its the year of Information Technology,   the BBC Model B is the must have computer device for a generation of students getting their head around the idea of ‘programming a computer’.   As a student of the 80’s one of my favourite programmes was the BBC’s ‘The Computer Programme’ with people like Ian McNaught-Davis and Chris Searle taking people on a journey into the technology ahead.

Those students like myself had come from days of building Lego, possibly playing Pong on a Binatone games console, so the idea of the technology, and especially the idea of programming a computer was a real fascination. Computer Studies was a ‘sort after topic’ by my classmates, and lines of code were produced which gave us the idea and concepts which have stayed with me throughout my working career.

Lets fast forward  a few years –  the ethos changes from programming a computer, to using a computer. Using application like spreadsheets, desktop publishing.   The art of computer programming in the younger generation had almost been wiped out. As an education system, teachers were teaching the IT curriculum, those people with computing skills were carving a career in industry to become the developers of tomorrow.

Let move forward again, I think it was at the Bett Show when Michael Gove the then Minister for Education, declared the Computing (Science) was back on the curriculum! Hurrah a generation of computer programmers will be created to power the economy forward.   That statement sent shock waves through education as we suddenly realised that the majority of the IT teachers in schools had little or no programming skills. Mixed with this a generation of students who have been brought up on technology, these are indeed different times.

Yammer in the classroom
Its different from the first Computing generation – students have been brought up on technology, and computer programming has to be ‘a real sell’ to get students engaged on building the apps of the future.

We have seen the arrival of organisations such as CAS (Computing at Schools) who have done a superb job of upskilling hundreds of teachers with computing skills.  With teachers teaching Scratch, and more recently Python in the classroom, however I have yet to see ‘inspired’ children at the keyboard.   Indeed I get a bit worried when I still see business looking for good Microsoft Office skills in potential employees, rather than computational skills.

However this week I had my first hands on play with a device that may well be pivotal in being able to pick the programmers of the future out of the class – that is the BBC Micro:bit

I will have to admit I am a big fan of the Raspberry PI, and we have had great projects at Wymondham School using the device.   However the Micro:bit is very personal and students get very excited about the visual tangible results from such a small device in their hands. If you can excite students then that’s 80% of the job done, natural curiosity carries the rest.    Also unlike the PI the device does not worry about displays like HDMI etc – it simply plugs in to your existing PC’s through USB.

The Micro:bit is a computer developed by the BBC and in conjunction with Microsoft, and will be delivered to Year 7 students for free this academic year.  Not a typical computer with a keyboard etc, more a computing device,  it is packed to the gunnels with programmable buttons, accelerometers, motion detectors etc.  Its is programmed from any PC using the Micro:bit website, and I believe in the future will be able to be controlled from your mobile phone.

One side of the Micro:bit looks like this, with two programmable button and an programmable LED display.

The LED grid on the Micro:bit
The LED grid on the Micro:bit

At the bottom you see a number of I/O pins that can be used to get tactile input from the operator.  For example

When Pin1 is touched, light up the LED panel

OMG – was that just an algorithm ?  This device really gets you hooked just thinking about it.  On the flip side is a map of all the sensors to give the student the idea of how the device is connected and flows.

http://microbit.co.uk

The website is where the action take place.   My advice is to get yourself registered to have a look its great.  Once you have logged onto you will see the environments in which you can code effectively.  The first is Code Kingdoms JavaScipt,  then Microsoft’s Block Editor and finally Microsoft’s TouchDevelop.   However teachers with there head buried in Python will be please to know the Micro@bit will be able to be controlled using Python very soon.

snip_20151003143130
There are a different range of environments to code your Micro:bit

So we spent an hour getting the LED panel to light, sending messages etc.  In its simplest form the website shows the Micro:bit in an emulator so you can test your code before sending it on to the device.

In its simplest form I have just turned on an LED
In its simplest form I have just turned on an LED

I can now compile my code and send it to my Micro:bit if I had it connected to my device.   The Micro:bit connects through a Micro USB cable, and then appears as a drive on your machine.  Simply drag the compiled file to that drive to execute it.

WP_20151001_10_15_05_Pro
The Micro:bit working on my Surface 3 device.

This device gives students a real tangible result in their hand; the I programmed it, and it does this scenario.  Instead of children simply dragging script blocks into place on a screen. The future is built around being able to control devices, with skills  sets in using IoT device coming to fruition, the Micro:bit is a catalyst to start a generation in how to code and create programs.

It may well reignite an interest in those who wish to carve a career in Computing /IT.  I am not a believer in ‘everyone is a coder’   Though the Micro:bit with its small size and development backed by Microsoft, BBC and other organisation is a truly a device to inspire a generation of students.

A call to arms from me to you.

Make sure you don’t miss the opportunity of a Micro:bit for every Year 7 student in this years intake. If you haven’t you still have time to register here https://bbcmicrobitschoolregistrationform.co.uk/english.html

Check out the http://microbit.co.uk website, register and get coding your first program to control your device.

Then  wait for your device to be delivered in December and begin to inspire your students with some hands on physical coding.

Follow me @kevin_sait

 

 

 

In case you hadn’t heard .. Windows 10 is coming

Windows 10 is coming to a desktop near you in the Summer, here are a few pointers on why Wymondham High School will be deploying it to over 700 desktops PC’s and 250 Surface devices in the Summer holidays.

I think the news coming out of Redmond is a lot to get your head round at the moment. These are indeed changing times, and having recently experienced the Microsoft E2 Global Educators Conference, I can definitely say that decisions you put into play now will have positive and far reaching outcomes for both staff and students at your school.    For those who don’t know me I am the Head of IT Strategy for Wymondham High Academy Trust and therefore responsible for the strategic direction of IT as a teaching and learning tool for 1650 + students.

We are a heavy Office 365 user in the classroom, with teachers making great use of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator, to enhance classroom activities and making learning more engaging.  We were recently one of the first schools in the UK to deploy the new Surface 3 into the classroom.  The next ‘Quantum Leap’ for us is to move from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Education.  Our team of students and staff have been involved in testing Windows 10, from some of the earliest builds, and we see it evolve almost on a weekly basis into the OS which will underpin the whole IT strategy of the school.

So from our testing in the field I thought I would take this opportunity to run through why I believe Windows 10 Education is the right choice for education.

 

A more organised Start Screen

When you look at Windows 8 it was clearly trying to jump the gap between desktop PC and tablet.   The Start Menu which has been ingrained to computer users since 1995 was not there!  I know some people got to grips with it straight away, however other users have struggled.  So its great to see that Microsoft have listened to feedback and developed the new start screen.

Windows 10
A more organised Start Screen

So Windows 10 has the full feature Live Tiles, which are awesome for the ‘quick glance’ of the overall picture in your workspace, but also hold the traditional Start Menu items on the left hand side, plus access to the new Settings app.   Less of the predictive searching than in Windows 8 to find anything as its all to hand.  If like me you use a Surface 3, the new Continuum functionality detects when detach the keyboard, making Live Tiles bigger and the Start Screen covering the whole screen – nice touch!    From an administrators perspective, the Start Screen can still be managed with the existing Windows GPO back end technologies – but perhaps now is the time to reduce that management and let users be creative with the OS.

Cortana

Cortana is an exciting proposition in the world of education.   Students have opportunities to become more organised by setting reminders, more personalised searches with integration to their smartphones as well.

Welcome to Cortana digital assistant to help personalise learning
Welcome to Cortana digital assistant to help personalise learning

Its really early days in this field, by I am sure that the Cortana API development opens up many opportunities for integration of these services in delivering the personalised learning experience for students in the future.   How powerful could Cortana  be if it were able to look at a student  timetable  via an MIS.     Integration with students smartphones happens now with WindowsPhones, but again  this week we hear Cortana will be debuting on Android and IOS another exciting step for the digital assistant.

As a user Cortana really works for me, I have recently started using the excellent location service to remind me to pick up certain items from a shop.  For students in the wide world this will be part of their daily routine as things like wearable technologies grow. I can only see Cortana’s role expand in education in the future.

Of course this means Cortana is available across all devices that a student uses in the future, phone, tablet & desktop.

Office 365 has really become our learning platform at school in the past year allowing students and teachers to experience the best of the cloud and access work from any internet connected device.  Windows 10 will now let you log in with an organisational account (Office365) much in the same way Windows 8.1 let you sync details via a Windows Live ID.  This is great as it enhances the use of Office 365 as a learning platform.  Students have already benefited from OneNote, and the Office 365 ProPlus benefit.  Organisational account logon will enhance the user experience.

This is a great opportunity for students to sync their learning environment to a home computer and have all the access to the same apps they would have at school.  There will be a few school network managers muttering at this degree of openness, but I believe it needs to come if our education system is to evolve.

Windows 10 Education will allow students to download free apps from specific categories  in the store. So a school could give students access to the ‘Education’ category so they could pick and chose apps to help their own learning.  So a school managed learning app store will be another powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning.

The Power of Spartan

Project Spartan (aka Microsoft Edge) is the new web browser included in Windows 10.  Again a lot of thought has gone into Spartan and its underlying technologies.   Web pages render extremely quickly through the new rendering engine making browsing on Spartan enjoyable experience again, and your browser becoming a real productivity tool once more.  However Spartan also includes inking technologies to allow teachers and students to annotate and share web pages.   So imagine a teacher using a Surface stylus to ink directly over a webpage and instantly share that with the class!

spartan1

Did I mention that Spartan can manage your reading list as well, so Spartan on a small sub inch tablet becomes your ebook reader.

In Windows 7, & 8 I was a heavy Google Chrome user, due to its size and speed in comparison with Internet Explorer.  However since running the Windows 10 technical preview Spartan is now my choice browser. This is a technology replicated to WindowsPhone 10, and I would expect Spartan to evolve onto other platforms in the near future.

A shrewd move is on the cards

While at the E2 conference, we tapped in to the Build 2015 conference which was happening at the same time.  The big news I picked up on was the ability for Android and IOS  developers to port their apps to the Windows Store.  If these developers are keen to reach out to new customers then again the OS generates endless possibilities for education.

Windows Hololens

Of course another exciting development with Windows 10 is the announcement of Hololens  (Holograms).   The ability bring augmented reality into the class room using Hololens as enormous possibilities, from Geography, through to DT.    Students can model designs in AR, before constructing them, giving them a great insight in industry techniques.   In theory trips  could almost have a preview visit, or indeed a trip could be run in AR on Hololens giving the student a completely immersive experience in a place they might not be physically able to visit.  For those who haven’t seen the Hololens demo at the Windows 10 launch check out the YouTube clip below.

The ability  to mix the physical and digital together through developing with Windows 10, means students will be able to create things from a coding / computer science view that are really meaningful and tangible to people.  I believe its through this technology that we could generate the all important entrepreneurs of the future.  So often students feedback to use with ‘ I bored of moving the cat across the screen’ , now I am not saying its a now thing, but Windows 10 with its holographic API’s built-in will inspire a generation.

Scalable Windows

For school network managers Windows 10 is a scalable OS that will run on anything from a £65.00 Linx 7 tablet  all the way through the schools real estate.   Manageable through System Centre, these are not new skills to learn to deploy to your school. However may be the way we do things is beginning to change, gone are the locked down mandatory profiles, and home folders.  Say hello to students working and managing there own ‘cloud space’ effectively,  public resources in SharePoint online, reducing the overhead to the schools.  However this will only happen as a partnership between student, yourselves, SLT and teaching staff, but that’s what education is all about partnership.

Surface 3

As I am writing this blog, I am installing Windows 10 on my Surface 3 device. Wymondham were one of the first schools in the UK to get there hands on Surface 3.   An ideal hybrid for using Windows 10, priced affordably, with the benefit of a touch keyboard and pen device.  Hook that up with a Microsoft  Wireless Display  and you have a awesome teaching tool, as our colleagues at Spooner Row Primary school have found out  by switching to Surface.

If you haven’t experienced Surface 3  here is a small reminder.

Conclusion

If I am shaping my students for a technology rich future and want to empower teaching and learning in the classroom, our ‘tech’  components shape up like this.  Windows 10 Education for its scalability, ease of deployment, Project Spartan, app compatibility.  Office 2016 on my desktop and Office 365 in the cloud.  Match this with devices, which include a pen then I believe schools have a winning formula at a truly affordable price.

graphic

 

I am only touching the tip of the iceberg.

As you can probably guess I am only touching the tip  of the iceberg with the functionality of Windows 10.   This really is an Operating System that has been re-thought from the ground up.   What would I do next about Windows 10 you may ask? Well if I didn’t have Windows 10 I would get myself to http://insider.windows.com and become a Windows 10 Insider and have a play with it.  I have had it running on my Surface Pro 3 for a number of months now and it really is my chosen operating system (I haven’t done that since Windows 7).  Start the conversation with your IT guy, or if your the IT guy reading this, start your conversation with some teacher or the SLT of you school

After experiencing the E2 conference this year – I truly believe you need to forget the “Windows of old”  and that includes Windows 8!   These truly are changing times – don’t get left behind.

 

Follow the Microsoft Education team on twitter @MicrosoftEdUk for news on Windows 10 events.

Windows 10 will be the Windows you love – you just don’t know it yet!

 

 

 

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

 

 

How Can Microsoft Technology Help Your Revision?

By JASON BROWN, Saturday April 11th 2015

Being an International Microsoft Showcase School and myself being a Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassador representing Microsoft in Education at Wymondham High Academy, we are always keen to show off how Microsoft products can be used to help students and staff with their educational life, whether that be planning their day, completing their homework, messaging colleagues in school, taking notes in class and most importantly of all at this time of year, revision.

Wymondham High Academy is a Microsoft International Showcase School in Norfolk, UK.
Wymondham High Academy is a Microsoft International Showcase School in Norfolk, UK.

For those of you unfamiliar with the UK education system, every child in the UK is required to take GCSE examinations at the end of Year 11 when they are 15 or 16 years old, and those who choose to go onto further education (A levels) also take exams at the end of Year 12 and Year 13. The exams are in May and June, and so April is definitely ‘revision month’ for many teenagers and young adults in the UK! At Wymondham High Academy we have students taking their GCSE and A level exams each year and suggesting methods of revision to these students is absolutely vital to ensure that they do well in their exams.

Traditionally revision could be done in a number of ways. A lot of students were encouraged to make ‘flash cards’ with questions and answers on them to help test memory and key points as well as to put posters around their bedrooms with key points and of course make notes from the text books. These methods still work and they are all effective, though I found making notes from textbooks more effective than the other methods. However, with technology come some new methods of revision. We’ve written a few articles about Microsoft OneNote from both the students’ and the teachers’ perspectives on this blog. Have a read of those articles and it will be clear to see how OneNote can be used to help with revision.

Microsoft OneNote stores your notebooks in OneDrive, meaning that you can access them on any device, such as a smartphone (pictured). Notice the notes displayed on the phone are the same as the ones shown on the Surface in the header image?
Microsoft OneNote stores your notebooks in OneDrive, meaning that you can access them on any device, such as a smartphone (pictured).

From a students’ perspective, all of your notes are in one centralised place and are accessible on any device. This means that so long as you have an internet connection you’ll be able to access your notes on your laptops, desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets. Even your games console if you want! Having all of your notes in one place means that you can save time trying to find notes and avoid accidentally ‘losing notes’. This means that revision can ‘travel with you’ because you’re not having to taking lots of revision books or files full of paper notes. It’s true that you need periodic breaks from revision to ensure that what you are learning is sinking in and to rest from working, but whilst in the car or sitting there in bed on the night before your chemistry exam wondering what the pH value of rain is, you can quickly pull out your phone and check on your notes on OneNote. You can also periodically test yourself with questions whilst out and about and then check your knowledge using OneNote on your phone or tablet – rather like ‘digital flashcards’. One reason why I think handwriting notes out from the textbook used to work really well for me was because the pattern and the physical action of my writing went into my head and the knowledge was retained. If you are using OneNote on a tablet or a device with a touchscreen you can easily make drawings and handwritten notes. I’ve already written an article explaining how OneNote and a tablet can replace paper as a medium for recording notes and how the Surface Pro tablet is a perfect device for doing this (though that doesn’t mean it is the only device you can use – there are plenty of tablets that OneNote can run on which I’ll get to in a minute!) and the same applies for revision. When I was revising for my mock GCSE exams in November 2013 I was going through notepads and notepads and writing pages and pages of notes. By the end of my revision periods my hands were aching and the ink in my pens was often depleted. However, with OneNote you can an infinite amount of ‘paper’ and not worry about your tablet’s pen or stylus running out of ink and you can still handwrite notes if you really want to. I have found that using OneNote on my Surface Pro is really helpful for geography revision (drawing diagrams) and using the Surface pen and OneNote has introduced me to the idea of using ‘spider diagrams’ for revision to highlight key points.

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.

This is especially useful for economics because I can quickly, easily and clearly show how changing one factor (eg inflation) needs to another factor changing (eg price level changing as a result of increased inflation) which in turn changes another factor (reduced consumption, for example, which could then lead to unemployment). Using a pen on a tablet with OneNote makes during diagrams and charts much easier which helps to aid revision. You can of course choose custom colours for ink which is very good for revision because it has been proven that one of the things your memory associates things with colours (sound, smell and imagery are the others) which can help you remember your revision notes. From a teachers’ perspective, OneNote Class Notebook Creator can be a very helpful tool for helping your students with their revision. We have mentioned this fantastic tool several times on this blog, so please take the time to look at this article. The Content Library section in the Class Notebook is an area where teachers can post links to resources to help with revision (for examples news articles) or post information, for example exam techniques or the subject specification. Students however cannot edit this section of the notebook by default. The Collaboration Space is where resources for revision can be shared between the teacher and all of the students who have access to the notebook. Students can post helpful revision resources for the teacher and other students in the class to look at (and vice versa!) Each student has their own section in the OneNote notebook where they can do their revision. Other students cannot access other students’ sections, but the teacher can. This means that you can check up on who is using OneNote to do their revision and have solid proof that they have been doing revision. Of course, you couldn’t use this to see who hasn’t been doing revision because not everybody is going to want to revise using technology, however it’s a good way to see what your students are actually revising and how they are revising.

Using a stylus in OneNote makes marking very easy! You can also use a stylus to 'draw' onto documents in Word too.
Using a stylus in OneNote makes marking very easy! You can also use a stylus to ‘draw’ onto documents in Word too.

Past papers are a great method of revision. They are the ultimate way of testing your knowledge. However, with 20 pages per paper and wanting to complete as many as papers as possible, printing off past paper upon past paper upon past paper can end up costing a lot of money in paper and ink very quickly. It wouldn’t be so bad if you were to keep the papers or if they served some useful purpose once you had finished your exams, but you end up just throwing them in the bin, or if you’re like me you give them to your Dad to use as mousemats! A year on and he’s still using my old GCSE papers as mousemats! Anyhow, you can download PDFs of the exam papers from the exam board websites and you can also download the markschemes. You can answer the question papers in OneNote and you can also mark them in OneNote using a pen on a tablet if you access to one. If students do their papers in their sections in Class Notebooks then teachers can look at their answers and help to mark their papers and add comments and feedback. Moving on from OneNote, I want to talk about how I revised for my GCSE exams and my AS level mock exams. After having killed my hands after filling notebooks full of revision notes for my GCSE mocks, a friend of mine suggested to me that I typed my notes into PowerPoint presentations instead. Typing the notes into slides on PowerPoint presentations was good because I was limited to how much information I could put on one slide and typing my notes was much faster than handwriting them – and of course no paper was consumed! This worked well and of course using OneDrive and SharePoint you can share PowerPoint presentations and collaborate with people in real-time when making adjustments or revising in groups.

Sway makes it easy to create professional presentations for the web and mobile devices. Simply add 'blocks' to the presentation and adding content such as pictures is as easy as searching on Bing!
Sway makes it easy to create professional presentations for the web and mobile devices. Simply add ‘blocks’ to the presentation and adding content such as pictures is as easy as searching on Bing!

However, last year Microsoft Sway came along and it impressed me. We’ve written an article about Sway before, so check that out, but for those of you who don’t know what Sway is it’s like an online version of PowerPoint but much sleeker and more refined. You can customise your Sways using a number of pre-set designs, much like you can in PowerPoint, but the difference is that Sway’s themes are much more pleasing to the eye, and you can also integrate multimedia content such as Tweets and YouTube videos to enhance your revision notes. The beauty of Sway is that it encourages you to make your presentations look pretty, which is great because as mentioned earlier you remember thing based on colours and pictures. Adding photos of real places really helps bring geography ‘revision Sways’ to life and gets you really thinking about what you reading! Please do take a look at some of the Sways I have created for my revision by clicking on the links below:

AS level Computing: Sway 1 | Sway 2 | Sway 3

AS level Geography: Urban (1) | Urban (2) | Rivers (1) | Rivers (2)

Revision notes made in Sway can easily be shared via something like Yammer by posting the links to your Sways.
Revision notes made in Sway can easily be shared via something like Yammer by posting the links to your Sways.

The beauty of Sway is that when I have finished creating one, I can just get a link for the Sway presentation and then post it in a Yammer group or in the Collaboration Space of a OneNote Class Notebook so that the other people in my class can benefit from my notes. To get started with Sway all you need to do is visit sway.com and sign up, and that’s it! Get Swaying! Of course, Sway is a great alternative to PowerPoint and can also be used to deliver engaging and interactive presentations. I use it a lot to present ideas and meeting presentations to my Student Digital Leader Team. Here’s what one teacher had to say about how he thought my Sway presentations looked in comparison to his lesson PowerPoints.

“Your Sways look great, better than many of my lesson PowerPoints.”

– Andrew Howard, Computing Teacher

OneNote and Office 365 is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.
OneNote and Office 365 is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.

The best thing about using Microsoft technology to help you revise is that it is all free. OneNote is now free to download and comes pre-installed on every computer with Windows 8 anyway and Sway is a free tool that you can use. Staff and students at Wymondham High Academy are also entitled to download 5 copies of the latest Microsoft Office 365 software at school so that they can have the same version of Office at home as they do at school which makes the transition between the two seamless. Whilst I am definitely a fan of running Windows and Microsoft software on Microsoft hardware, not everybody is, and that’s fine because Office 365 and OneNote can be downloaded and installed on any Windows, iOS or Android device meaning it runs on a huge variety of hardware ranging from a £100 Windows 8.1 tablet to a £1200 Surface Pro 3 to a £400 iPad or to a £200 Google Nexus. This makes working very flexible and you can the use the platform that best suits you.

To conclude, revision isn’t all about handwriting notes. You can now make something that is eye-catching, informative, helpful, very accessible and easy to share with peers thanks to Microsoft technology.

I wish everybody who is taking exams this year the very bust of luck! Hopefully this has been a helpful article!

Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam

The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter to hear my views on Microsoft products from a Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassadors’ perspective: @JasonBrown2K13

Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait

Making OneNote Class Notebook a ‘killer app’

Its very difficult to improve on something when it’s really good!   OneNote Class Notebook has really become a ‘killer app’ in our school, with teachers making the most of the technologies available within Office 365 to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.   Matching this with a range of devices from the Linx tablet range to the new Surface 3, we really now have all the tools to begin to transform education in our schools.

We used to talk about killer-apps in the form of products like Lotus 1-2-3 in the eighties. Iconic software which will still remember today that literally transformed how we used computers.  OneNote and the OneNote ClassNotebook have really become the killer-apps in Education, it really has transformed how learning in the classroom can move forward with the use of technology.

For those who have not experienced OneNote Class Notebook I would suggest taking yourself to http://office365.com and sign up for the 30day evaluation for your school. This will show you how the transformational use of ‘digital paper’ in the classroom can transform the way teachers teach and students learn.

OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.
OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.

 

Let me give you a run through of how this can affect change at your school.   One of our teachers at Wymondham High School is Kay Southgate who works in our MFL department.  Kay freely admitted to being a ‘techno-phobe’ but after attending one of our OneNote training session soon saw the possibilities about personalised learning through OneNote.    Kay started using OneNote Class Notebook for marking and feeding back to year 11 students in preparation for their oral exams. Traditionally this had been done with written feedback, after sitting in a quiet area outside the class to listen to a student speak.

Kay setup a class notebook and encouraged student to use there mobile phones to connect to OneNote and use record their oral practise work.  A conversation could be had between student and teacher, and feedback left directly in the students OneNote section. Of course the simple idea of a section heading in bold meant every time Kay opened the class notebook she could see who had added content to the section!

Students have adapted a two prong approach to OneNote,  the first is having their personal OneNote synced to OneDrive for Business, second they work in open ClassNotebooks, (kind of like the textbook for each lesson). So by using OneNote clever use of Tags and its search facility, students tag important work and can then make ‘revision topic’ sheet by searching on tagged work !

Data-centric students are not phased by which device they use..
Data-centric students are not phased by which device they use..

We have a term in use at school and that is our students are data-centric!  Data-centric to us is our students don’t mind what device they use as long as they can access their data. So we see students  using mobile phones, Apple Ipads, Laptops or Surface devices the common platform being Office 365.

So how would I make OneNote Class Notebook the ultimate killer-app?

The one thing OneNote misses is to latch in to the idea of the controlled assessment.  CA’s are guided by a set of rules which mean students cannot access the work out of the controlled hours at school. So to make  ClassNotebook the ultimate  killer-app would be to add the ability for a teacher to lock a Controlled Assessment Notebook once a lesson has finished and then unlock it at the start of the next lesson.

Teachers love the aspect of a centralised Notebook to work with for a class.  The ability to drop in and see what progress is being made by students is a real time saver and the ability for different types of feedback have been received well by students.   Another feedback from teachers has been that some don’t work full time hours and therefore the ability to mark ‘from home’ or ‘from a device’ has also been a real benefit.

Controlled Assessments I am sure exist in other countries, however by adding a ‘Lock’ facility, it would make OneNote ClassNotebook the ultimate education app.   I am sure if the our colleagues in the OneNote team continue to build OneNote with the improvements we have seen so far this feature will be ‘in the roadmap’ as we like to say.

 

Getting going with OneNote Class Notebook Creator.  

Just to remind you how easy it is to try this killer-app in your school, watch this video from the hugely talented @jasonbrown2014 who is a member of the Wymondham High O Team on just how to do it.

 

Find out from @jasonbrown2014  why he believes OneNote is a Killer-App for student revision  in the next article.

The Wymondham High O Team, @WyHighOTeam will be at the Microsoft E2 Global Educators conference in Redmond from the 28th April  representing Wymondham High Academy Trust.  Make sure you follow the blog to find out the latest information from the global forum.

 

Why OneNote is perfect for education

By JASON BROWN, Saturday 14th February 2015, 20:40 PM

I wrote an article today explaining why the Surface Pro is the ‘most perfect’ device ever made, which you can read here, but as I was writing it I found myself talking a lot about the pen and OneNote and how it made taking notes easy. So I thought I’d write another article explaining why Microsoft OneNote is the perfect piece of software for education!

Firstly, it’s free! You can read all about that here. With students more often than not being unable to afford the latest software all of the time (especially having spent a chunk of money on a tablet like a Surface Pro 3), OneNote being completely free is a blessing for any student! Of course, Office 365 Pro Plus Benefit enables students and staff in educational institutions to have access to five free copies of the latest Microsoft Office software and as a student you’d be stupid not to take advantage of that great offering, but many schools and students do not know about this offering.

OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office 2013 suite and is included in all editions of the suite as well as Office 365.

Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario - whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!
Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario – whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!

Secondly, OneNote makes all of your notes accessible on any device. We know that students have a variety of devices that they like to use – varying from laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones. I’m a student myself and I have all four. OneNote apps can be downloaded on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android and Windows Phone meaning that it doesn’t matter what device you want to use for note-taking, the chances are OneNote can be used on it. The Metro app for Windows 8.1 is particularly nice and ideal if you want to write using a pen (pictured left).

You can save your OneNote notebooks locally on your device but you are much better off saving them into the cloud because then it is much easier to access them on any device and when you make changes on one device the changes are automatically synchronised (‘applied’) to your other devices so you can work on a tablet one minute and on a desktop computer the next and then a phone without worrying about needing to manually transfer and update your notebook. By default your notebooks are stored on OneDrive. This makes OneNote a very versatile app.

OneNote is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.
OneNote is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.

But the big reason why OneNote is a student’s dream is because it eliminates the need to create massive paper files and saves you having to carry these heavy, heavy files to school.

Paper files are a student’s nightmare. As a student I can tell you that there is nothing worse than having to cart around these huge files to school. The files are heavy and have caused me some serious backache over the past few months and because they don’t fit in my bag properly, I end up having to carry them in a separate bag to school. Paper files have cost me a lot of money in paper, ink and rucksacks. My previous £40 rucksack split thanks to carrying these massive files to school.

Paper files often do not fit very well into bags. They are unpractical to carry.
Paper files often do not fit very well into bags. They are unpractical to carry. However, one tablet with OneNote fits very nicely into any bag!

Paper files are also a pain to revise from – especially if you only need to revise half of what is in the file. More often than not you’ll need to take out sheets of paper in your file to revise from and you risk putting them back in the order, or worse, the whole file will pop open as try to turn over 100 sheets of paper and suddenly you’ll find all of your work all over the bedroom floor. Then you have to spend time putting the file back together when you could be revising.

OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.
OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.

Put simply, to most students files are a nightmare. One has to wonder why, when we live in a world of scarce resources, we are still printing out work and consuming masses and masses of paper and using hundreds of pounds of toner to produce an archive of work that is hard to organise, takes up a lot of physical space, is hard and impractical to transport and difficult to revise from.

We do not like using our natural resources to produce electricity, heat homes or manufacture goods. We are always being told that renewable energy is the way forwards and we are constantly being pestered to save paper and ‘think green’ and recycle just about anything we can. We are always being told about the damage that logging does to the rainforests and the environment and how we can help by buying sections of rainforest to protect to stop this. So why are we still encouraged at school to print out work and put it in a massive file when we know that this is not sustainable?

It seems to me like it’s just an old idea that has stuck around and has become the ‘accepted’ way of doing work at school, or we have yet to find a way in which technology can replace huge files.

This is where Microsoft OneNote comes in.

A lot of people ask me ‘what is OneNote?’ and the easiest way to describe it is ‘a digital file’. Literally. Open up OneNote and what do you notice? Little tabbed sections at the top of the window and a Pages panel on the right side of the window. The little tabbed sections represent subject dividers in a paper file and the pages represent – you guessed it, the pages of the file.

The tabbed interface of OneNote makes organising notes straightforward.
The tabbed interface of OneNote makes organising notes straightforward.

This makes organising your notes very easy and you can set your notebook up in such a way that makes finding notes easy for you. This is of course great for revision ad you don’t need to worry about your notes falling out place – and if they do get disorganised for whatever reason, you just drag the pages and sections into the order you want. OneNote is much better than Word for doing your work in. Not only does OneNote support things like handwriting, it is much better for organising notes because your work is stored in one ‘document’, and not several individual Word documents.

The great thing about the tabbed interface of OneNote is that you can arrange your notebook into your subjects (for example) and this means that OneNote can quite literally replace an unlimited number of heavy, bulky paper files.

OneNote means that one small and light device can replace multiple heavy folders.
OneNote means that one small and light device can replace multiple heavy folders.

But OneNote is more than a digital file.

You can share and collaborate on notebooks using OneDrive and the handwriting recognition in OneNote is now so advanced that you can select handwritten notes and turn them all into typed notes. What’s more, it also converts special symbols such as maths symbols into typed characters.

Why is this good? Isn’t it just a gimmick? One might argue that, but think of it like this. Everything in OneNote is designed to make your note-taking faster and easier. Most people can write faster than they can type – but most people’s handwriting is poor. Now what we can do is write quickly using a pen on a tablet, and then we can transform scrawly handwritten notes into beautifully-presented typed up text. This makes note-taking quick but note-revision straightforward and simple.

You can use the Office Lens app on your smartphone to take photos of diagrams and text in textbooks and then you can send these photos directly to OneNote and it will automatically crop, straighten and align the images and then put them into the page you specified in your notebook. This makes taking notes out of the textbook very quick and easy!

OneNote Class Notebook Creator is a great tool for teachers. OneNote not only saves students the pain of carrying files to school, but it also saves teachers the pain of carrying them home to mark! OneNote Class Notebook Creator is what it says on the tin – a OneNote notebook that a class can share and work in. There is a Collaboration Space where everybody can share ideas, but each student has their own little private section to work in which only them and the teacher can see. This is fantastic for teachers and is the digital equivalent of a student handing in work to a teacher to mark.

Watch the video below to learn how easy it is set up OneNote Class Notebook Creator!

The features of OneNote go on and on, but there are clear environmental and efficiency benefits to using OneNote in the classroom. OneNote saves paper, ink, time and money and makes working with technology much easier and quicker.

Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam

The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter so you can read all about my amazing life(!):@JasonBrown2K13

Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait

Last updated: Saturday 14th February 2015, 21:12 PM

Why the Surface Pro is the ‘most perfect’ device ever made

By JASON BROWN, Saturday 14th February 2015, 15:12 PM

With it being Valentine’s Day and all, I’d thought I’d share my new-found love with the Surface Pro and explain why I think it is simply the ‘most perfect’ device ever made.

The original MacBook Air of 2008 is generally said to be the ultrabook that started the trend for slim and portable laptops.
The original MacBook Air of 2008 is generally said to be the ultrabook that started the trend for slim and portable laptops.

What do consumers look for in a laptop or portable computer in 2015? Portability, long battery life and power are definitely three things that consumers want for computing on the go. Since the MacBook Air first came out in 2008 revolutionising the concept that having a stylish, portable computer with a great battery life was possible, everybody’s been onto it. Over the years the shortcomings of those early utlrabooks such as the first generation Air and early attempts by HP, Lenovo and Dell have been ironed out, but truth be told: ultrabooks are becoming a thing of the past. Put simply, they’re a little stale.

Whilst having a slim computer with decent specs and good battery life was great in 2008, the world has moved on since then. There is a new ‘ultrabook’ on the market now – and has been on the market for several years. And I’m using one to type this very article up on. I give you: the convertible tablet (sometimes called a ‘hybrid’).

Why are hybrids becoming the ‘new ultrabooks’ then? It’s simple really. Where an ultrabook offers great portability, good battery life and usually a high resolution display, they do have their limitations. Whilst many of them come with touchscreens these days, where is the pen? What happens if you want to save even more weight by detaching the keyboard or want to walk around with your device and use it as a tablet? You just can’t do it with an ultrabook – so is an ultrabook really as portable as the manufacturers make them out to be?

There are a great deal of hybrid devices on the market these days with Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS and Acer all offering their products, so the choice is not limited, but the ones I have been most impressed by are Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices.

The Surface Pro I got runs Adobe CC 2014 near enough perfectly and is small and light. Perfect mobility!
The Surface Pro I have runs Adobe CC 2014 near enough perfectly and is small and light. Perfect mobility!

I’ve owned an original Surface Pro for a few months now and from the very moment I first turned it on I could see how for school it was going to be much better than my ThinkPad L540 – you can already ready my article about the Surface Pro in education here if you are interested. I still feel that the original Surface Pro was one of the most pioneering devices ever made because it was the tablet that started the trend for hybrid tablets. Simply put, the Surface Pro was, and still is, a tablet that can replace your tablet. It had an i5 3317U CPU which was more than enough grunt under the ‘hood’ and paired with 4GB of RAM and an SSD of 64GB or 128GB, it ran, and still runs, just about anything perfectly. The 1080p display is one of the best I’ve seen and is crystal clear. I want to talk about the pen, but I’ll do that later because I think that is the biggest selling point of the Surface Pro and is the secret behind what makes it the most perfect device ever made.

If you ask me, the Surface Pro was, and still is, quite simply nearly perfect. There are only few ways in which I feel it could be improved and Microsoft listened to their customers and fixed these in the Pro 2 and Pro 3. For a first generation device, the Surface Pro absolutely nailed it and I love mine.

Of course, the Pro 2 came out with a newer CPU, the option to have 8GB of RAM, the option for 256GB and 512GB models and a three-position kickstand which was great. I have never used a Pro 2 but secretly I wish I had bought one instead of my Lenovo for school, but I have a Pro now which is a very similar device.

The 12" Surface Pro 3 is noticeably bigger than its 10.6" predecessors but is not really any heavier.
The 12″ Surface Pro 3 is noticeably bigger than its 10.6″ predecessors but is not really any heavier.

The Pro 3 has been the ‘new kid on the block’ since July 2014 and what can say other than ‘this is the most perfect device ever made’? It genuinely is. Of course I’m no stranger to the Pro 3, I’ve played with a few and I see them around school everyday because several (lucky!) people I know own them, but this is the first time I’ve had on ‘review’ to test for any length of time – and let’s say I am absolutely smitten.

Truth be told, I actually have this Surface Pro 3 on ‘review’ because apparently there is a problem with the screen where it would flicker occasionally. It actually belongs to my headteacher, Russell Boulton. Since completely removing and reinstalling the latest Intel HD 4400 graphics drivers, I think I have fixed it but I might just lie and say it’s broken and offer to put it in the bin so that I can keep it and get myself a free copy of the most drop-dead gorgeous tablet ever made.

So let’s get to it – why is the Surface Pro 3 the ‘most perfect’ device ever made?

The Surface Pro 3 is well and truly the tablet that can replace your laptop - and your desktop!
The Surface Pro 3 is well and truly the tablet that can replace your laptop – and your desktop!

Microsoft continue to market the Pro 3 as ‘the tablet that can replace with your laptop’. Usually with marketing claims like this you have to take them with a pinch of salt and either laugh and say ‘in your dreams!’ or move on. But Microsoft have truly hit the nail on the head with this claim. The 12″ 2160×1440 display is every bit as gorgeous as the displays you get on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the new Dell XPS 13 (if a little lower resolution) but the Surface Pro 3 has the benefit of coming with a touchscreen as standard and whilst that high resolution on a 12″ display makes for fantastic real-estate meaning that you get the best of both worlds: a stunning display and a small(ish) display which is still perfectly usable.

The original Surface Pro and the Pro 2 being around 10″ maybe make for better tablets but they don’t have as much real-estate as the Pro 3 does so I feel that they aren’t quite as good laptop replacements. The Pro 3 seems to be good blend between a laptop and a tablet. Most premium ultrabooks are 13″ or 14″ but the Pro 3 being around 12″ is more portable and to be honest you don’t need the extra space with the high resolution display.

The keyboard on the Surface Pro 3 is not bad but doesn't quite stack up to a keyboard on a proper laptop.
The keyboard on the Surface Pro 3 is not bad but doesn’t quite stack up to a keyboard on a proper laptop.

Whilst I am not going to lie and say that the keyboard on a Surface Pro 3 can match the world-class keyboards on Lenovo’s ThinkPads and is even really as good as the keyboards on most laptops, it’s not bad and must be half-decent because I’ve managed to write a 2,000+ word article on it! But where the Surface Pro 3’s keyboard shines over the other ultrabook’s is that it can be detached and voila you have yourself a tablet! This makes the Pro 3 an extremely portable and versatile device. Try doing that with a ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Lovely as the X1 is, it’s not as versatile as the Pro 3. But if I am perfectly honest I prefer the keyboard my Surface Pro has (the keys seem to have more travel).

The Surface Pro has always represented being a perfect blend between power and portability. Two years after the original Pro came out, its i5 and 4GB of RAM are still perfectly adequate. The Pro 3 improves on the Pro and Pro 2 by offering a choice of SKUs to choose from. Let’s face it – even the ‘low-end’ i3 model is more powerful than the CPU in an iPad and is perfectly adequate. You can choose from i3, i5 and i7 offerings with the choice of a 64GB, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD. There is a Pro 3 to fit everybody’s needs and budget. Perfect, eh?

Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario - whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!
Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario – whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!

Let’s now talk about the pen. It’s funny how times change, isn’t it? In the early 1990s, pen computing was seen as being the future. It merely died away for computing and was only seen as being useful for PDAs and early smartphones and ‘Pocket PCs’. In 2007 Apple launched the first iPhone and its biggest selling point was that you didn’t need to use a stylus. Steve Jobs famously said that if a company made a tablet that needed a stylus, they’d ‘blown it’.

In 2015 the situation has changed. A touchscreen tablet without a pen is like a dog without a bone. Even Apple have been forced to admit this which is why the 12″ ‘iPad Pro’ will come with a pen (seem familiar?). The pen has always really been the selling point of the Surface Pro. With apps like Microsoft OneNote in this day and age, it makes sense to use a tablet with a pen – the pen makes note taking so much easier and with handwriting recognition as advanced as it is in OneNote on a Surface Pro, we could be spelling the end of the keyboard (no pun intended, honestly). You can read my article about why OneNote is ‘perfect for education’ here.

The pen on the Surface Pro is a multi-purpose device and the versatile kickstand makes using the pen easy.
The pen on the Surface Pro is a multi-purpose device and the versatile kickstand makes using the pen easy.

It must be understood that the pen is a multi-purpose device. Not only is it ideal for note taking and drawing diagrams in OneNote, it is also fantastic for creative applications. Adobe CC 2014 is designed to work with the Surface Pro and notably make use of pen technology. Designers and creatives love working on their tablets with pens. Who needs a graphics tablet a desktop PC in 2015 when you can just use a Surface Pro which is two in one and portable?

One problem with the original Pro was that its kickstand only had one position. This position was fine for general computing but if you want to use the pen you need to use the tablet flat on a desk (ideally). This works fine but the Pro 2 and particularly the Pro 3 offer much more versatile kickstands that support a variety of positions making it easier to use the pen whilst the Surface is not flat on a desk.

People are worried that one day people won’t be able to hold a pen because nobody handwrites these days. That’s not true at all and we are in a time and a place where we are seeing the rise of pen computing once again. More and more people are seeing how a pen is useful for computing and applying it to many applications. It will be a long time yet before humans forget how to hold pens, I feel.

No matter how you prefer working, the Surface Pro 3 can accommodate it.
No matter how you prefer working, the Surface Pro 3 can accommodate it.

As I said earlier, many ultrabooks come with beautiful touchscreen displays that are high resolution and they are lovely. But I struggle to see why you’d want a touchscreen on what is essentially still a laptop unless it comes with a pen. You want to take your laptop to school or work to take notes – you are still forced to type. You want to draw a diagram in your notes? You can’t quickly draw one. You want to use a pen to draw something in an Adobe app but you are stuck with using the mouse or getting a graphics tablet. The pen is a truly overlooked piece of hardware.

Still not convinced that the Surface Pro is the most perfect device? If there’s one more thing that needs to convince you is the price.

I admit, when the original Surface Pro came out in 2013 I said ‘£700 for a tablet? Are Microsoft being serious?’ but that was before I realised that the Surface Pro was literally a fully-blown PC in a tablet shell. Unfortunately, many people thought like I did and still try and compare the price tag of the Surface Pro 3 to other tablets such as the Nexus line and the iPad. But you shouldn’t compare the Surface’s price tag to the price tag of the other mainstream tablets because the Surface Pro has always been much closer to a high-end laptop or ultrabook than it has been an ‘mainstream tablet’.

Let’s compare prices.

The Surface Pro 3 is likely thinner than the X1 and the XPS 13.
The Surface Pro 3 is likely thinner than the X1 and the XPS 13.

For £1,200 you can have an entry-level Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – Lenovo’s premium ultrabook offering. It’s in its third generation now (just like the Surface Pro) and for your hard-earned cash you will get an i5-5200U, Windows 8.1 x64 (non-Pro), a 14″ 1920×1080 TN display (non-touch), 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

For £1,050 you can have a mid-range Surface Pro 3 with an i5-4300U, Windows 8.1 Pro x64, the 12″ 2160×1440 multi-touch display with the Surface Pen that all Surface Pro 3s have, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD with all of the benefits listed above. Add £90 on for the keyboard and the Surface Pro 3 is still a better deal than the X1 Carbon.

You have to spend more than £1,500 before you even get a touchscreen on the X1 Carbon – and even then you are still stuck with an i5, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and Windows 8.1 x64 (non-Pro).

Lenovo's X1 Carbon is a gorgeous notebook, it must be said, but the value just isn't there when compared to the Surface Pro 3.
Lenovo’s X1 Carbon is a gorgeous notebook, it must be said, but the value just isn’t there when compared to the Surface Pro 3.

If you spend £1,500 on your Surface you can get one with an i7 and a 256GB SSD for £1,250 and even if you add £90 on for a keyboard it still comes to around £170 cheaper than the cheapest X1 Carbon with a touchscreen (and that still only has an i5, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD!)

For £1,550 you can get a Pro 3 with an i7 and a 512GB SSD. Add £90 for the keyboard and this becomes £1,640. Let’s just say that the equivalent X1 Carbon doesn’t exist because Lenovo doesn’t offer a model with a 512GB SSD, but they will charge £1,930 for a model with an i7-5500U, Windows 8.1 Pro x64, a 24560×1440 touchscreen , 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

For £1,050 you can also have an entry-level Dell XPS 13 – Dell’s new premium ultrabook offering. You’ll get a 5th generation i5 CPU, Windows 8.1 x64, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a QHD+ touch screen display. Granted, the resolution is slightly higher on the Dell than the Surface Pro, but what are you missing in the way of versatility by sticking with an ultrabook?

What we can conclude from this is that people who compare the Pro 3’s pricing to other tablets are misguided. The Surface Pro 3 is actually a very competitively-priced machine and clearly outshines its competitors in the price war. The cheapest Pro 3 starts at £640 and this has an i3, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD which isn’t too bad but it could be argued it is pricey for what you get. The value starts to shine when you get to the i5 offerings. Don’t even get me started on Apple, but they do appear to be better-priced than Lenovo in this market at least.

Don’t get me wrong, the X1 Carbon is a gorgeous laptop, but it is clearly not as much value for money as the Surface Pro 3.

Not convinced?

Persistent perfection: the Surface Pros are beautiful tablets.
Persistent perfection: the Surface Pros are beautiful tablets.

Just look at the Surface Pro tablets. They are all drop-dead gorgeous. I am so bored on the ‘Apple look’ these days that the relatively rectangular look of the Surfaces looks beautiful to me. There is no denying that all of the Surfaces are beautiful tablets and are well-built and turn heads.

So there we go, these are the reasons why the Surface Pro is the ‘most perfect’ device ever made. Why do I love going to school? Every now and then I get to bring home very nice pieces of technology like this to try out!

Ultrabooks are not the future. They just aren’t versatile enough to be considered ‘the future’. The ‘future’ has been on the market for over 2 years now and has been overlooked by too many people to mention – but the future is definitely the Surface Pro and hybrid tablet computing in a world where we are demanding versatility, power, portability and all at a reasonable price.

‘Persistent perfection’ is what a lot of companies strive for. Many do not achieve it because being persistently perfect is not a terribly realistic business concept. But to me, the Surface Pro is persistently perfect. Each generation just keeps getting better and better.

Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam

The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter so you can read all about my amazing life(!):@JasonBrown2K13

Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait

Last updated: Saturday 14th February 2015, 21:02 PM

Students being creative with Yammer

I am a firm believer, if you give a student the right tools, their  creative side will show through.   Recently we have seen this through our schools social network – Yammer in the recent months, proving the value of communication in the school.   Yammer itself was probably a bit of a gamble in the school market, my previous school did not see the value in it, however at Wymondham they took the risk. Russell Boulton was aware of what Enterprise Social meant and how we could manage any risk. So Yammer was born in January 2014.

Initially usage was limited to our Sixth Formers. However word soon got round ‘socially’ and numbers started to pick up. Then our IT teaching staff started to investigate is use and started teaching e-safety through it, things like:

  • how to setup your profile
  • what information do you want to make public
  • what posts are applicable

This has been rolled out to different year groups during the year, with some students ‘getting ahead of the game’ before hand! Some of our Wymondham High O Team leaders interviewed some students about ‘life before and life after’ we moved to Office 365 & Yammer.

 

What I found interesting is the need to communicate,  we are a big school (well in my eyes we are) and the ability for students to communicate with teachers without having to spend a lunchtime looking for them has been a real plus.  The students in the video talk about being able to communicate with teachers – its important to them.

Of course we have teachers who embrace the idea and are happy to utilise Yammer to its upmost. For example MFL teacher Kay Southgate has been a leading light on using Yammer and OneNote in the classroom with her Year 7 classes.  Kay’s group on Yammer can only post in French (that’s the rules), but there are some superb conversations happening all the time.  Of course the social media term of a ‘Like’ has almost replaced the traditional team point system from the past!

Yammer fanatic Kay Southgate with her Yammy
Yammer fanatic Kay Southgate with her Yammy

So students enjoy using the technology, and it proves a complete benefit in finding out what goes on in a school the size of ours. The next step however surprised me also.    We started seeing students create different groups such as My Poetry, My Drawings, Your Creations and a story-writing group where students began to showcase there work to others in this social showcase that they now had.  This was not run by teachers but by students and have become very popular, remember this isn’t homework its just children being creative and being able to do so by having the right toolset to achieve those goals.

Capture

So here is a great example in the Story writing group, taken a few days ago.   This group has been started by a group of Year 7 students and now has a healthy membership and as you can see Yammer has enabled the students to feedback and evaluate others work.  These are fairly early days but shows the potential of an Enterprise Social network in school as a tool for students to self evaluate the work of others !

Yammer initially to me was all about improving communication using mobile devices as the end point, and this has certainly been the case for us, as you can see.  These are our stats from the Yammer dashboard for the past 30 days.  Social, as a form of communication is certainly the chosen method for students.  As a school its dawning that Yammer is the quickest method of communicating to students !

 

Our Yammer stats

Yammer also fills a great arena of e-safety for Year 7s but also allows us to collaborate effectively with other high schools and feeder schools using this familiar technology.   I would always regard Yammer as Work in Progress as the only limitation on its use as an educational tool will be how creative our students want to be.

Yammer Enterprise is free for Office 365 subscriptions for education. For more information follow me on Twitter @kevin_sait

 

 

 

A year in the life of Harry Traynor – Global Student Ambassador

There is only a certain amount of times you can use the term ‘right hand man’ in these kind of blogs, but that is how I would describe Harry Traynor who is one of our Microsoft Global Student Ambassador’s here at Wymondham High School.

Harry is 18 and we have been working together on the rollout, deployment and ‘crazy ideas’ to do with IT both in and around the school. I first met Harry as a Year 13 student along with Paul Harvey, back in September 2013, and we first started talking about Microsoft certifications, this soon expanded into Harry’s passion of building computers and generally playing with technology when he had the opportunity.    To me this blended in well with the vision of scrapping the VLE in school and replacing it with Office 365, who better to help me to launch this to students?

It soon became obvious to me, that there was a different message to come from a students mind than there was an adults!  Harry & Paul soon offered to manage the rollout to the 6th form students, overseeing organising assemblies, initial training and troubleshooting any user issues.

OneNoteShakeSpeareOne day we were joking in the office about marketing our campaign, and soon after I came back to my desk to find the first Office 365 poster that Harry had created.  These unique posters blending curriculum, with technology soon started to generate interest around the school – again a great example of the student mind overtaking the stayed mind of someone older !

By Christmas, Harry (& Paul) were leading the charge with Office 365 & Yammer in the school.  Harry had also offered to develop our SharePoint site after feedback from students.

So by now Harry’s free slots on his timetable were taken up with showing me what he had found on SharePoint, and how we could roll this out to other years.

As we moved through 2014  the Harry’s role grew into a position of complete trust from both the IT teams perspective and that of our staff.  Students would tend to prefer asking another student for help, and staff were quite happy for students to come and assist them.

We started running regular CPD sessions for staff, and I gave Harry the opportunity to host them, and again his presence (at the age of 17) was fantastic, highlighting to teachers how students work.  Our relationship with Microsoft really was the catalyst for Harry’s other passion to come to light, that of video production, we were soon getting calls from different people from within Yammer and Microsoft to see if we can create a promo video for them.

April time was when I approached Russell Boulton (Principal) with the view to keeping Harry on in the school via an apprenticeship scheme.  He nature and enthusiasm really meant we did not want to let him go and luckily he decided to stay.

In September we have been working with Old Buckenham High School, an it really is second nature to take Harry  into a training session knowing he has the skill set to deliver  great knowledge to staff. We have done various presentations to other schools on our work with Office 365 in the classroom and where possible I get Harry to run those session with myself on the sidelines!

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Harry Traynor talking about the Surface Pro 3 at Bett 2015

 

This work culminated in Harry being asked to present at the Bett Show at EdExcel with members from the Surface team from the states – and again never ceasing to amaze me with his level of professionalism at the age of 18 delivered some stellar presentations with Jacqueline Russell.

Team Yellow in action pose Bett 2015
Team Yellow in action pose Bett 2015

 

This year Harry is being invited to the E2 Conference in Seattle, to talk about his Minecraft  development with students at Wymondham High . I have been privileged to build some great stuff over the past 18 months, and cannot press home the value of working with students to help shape their future. I am sure 2015 will be another exciting year for the Global Student Ambassadors here at Wymondham High.