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

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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.