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innedBeing a Microsoft Innovative Educator and more recently asked to be a ‘Fellow’ I have gained many insightful views to the direction that Microsoft have been taking in regards to education and their role in it.

What I have been most impressed about is the ‘light-touch’ of this vision in the way that It has been gradually unveiled to us within the Innovative Educator programme and through the Educator Network. The focus has always been based around seeing and celebrating the good practice that goes on in classrooms, worldwide, and how much they can learn from us as well as giving us the tools to help improve our practice. From all my dealings with people in the company, there has been nothing but positivity and praise. Indeed, this can be seen in Anthony Salcito’s DailyEdventures Blog – something that  I had the recent privilege of being interviewed for at the latest Bett Show. This engagement demonstrates to me that Microsoft Education continues to move strongly in the direction of listening.

Listening to what educators are doing in the classroom; listening to what educators feel is important to them and listening to see how we can celebrate these achievements in Global Gatherings. I relish my time working with the many different people who are working hard around the world to improve the lives of children as well as enhance the teaching and learning process.

But this has to be a two way relationship and I am more than happy to be a person who uses and celebrates the many different products that Microsoft has to offer. With the latest introduction of free Office365 into classrooms and homes in Northern Ireland, there are even greater opportunities for our education system. As well as this, within our C2k Managed network, we get access to the office apps as well as being able to use MovieMaker Live or install Worldwide Telescope and, just this week, Minecraft being delivered to every Post-Primary School in Northern Ireland through CultureTECH.

In an earlier post, that I have to complete, I celebrated the use of OneNote as an educational tool. As much as I learn it each day, the more I see that I can do and haven’t used it to its full potential. This is a programme that has so much potential across the range of schools.

My most recent acquisition has been my Surface Pro3. This has been a game changingpro device and one that has endless potential in the classroom. As the W8.1 environment evolves into W10, I can see it getting more of a place in my workplace.

surface3The impending launch of the Surface 3 make this tablet device even more appealing and I look forward to seeing it in action and reporting on how it is used in the classroom. I was a great fan of the original Surface RT and still feel that it can be a major asset to the classroom. Many of the apps are well suited to the daily use of pupils and teachers, alike. I look forward to seeing, for example, the excellent work that Kate Murray (@kateingalway) from Clontuskert School in Galway will do with hers and the use Chekhov Story Maker. Innovators such as Kate show that the right tools in the right hands can transform lives and expectations.

I firmly believe that the Surface 3, in tandem with the Surface Pro 3, will show that Microsoft have their eye firmly on supporting the creativity and productivity of teachers and children alike. Hopefully, there will be more to report on the forthcoming Surface 3 release and its impact in the classroom.

Match Attacked

For some people, they are a scourge in the playground – leading to fights and friendship strange. To others, mainly boys – big and small! (probably) they are a normal part of growing up.

Match Attax cards are the annual ‘in-thing’ in the playground – a combination of Football stickers and Top Trumps. They are the one thing that boys in my class collectively become obsessed about for the football season. They regularly carry their folder of precious card memorabilia around the playground – looking for fellow collectors to trade their ‘Doubles’ with. They hunt down the missing piece in their team puzzle – learning how to strike the best bargain. They can also be the scourge of the younger children as they are regularly ‘fleeced’ by the older boys who know how to trade on the naivety of younger children (or in my own son’s case – fleecing the older children!!) And if it isn’t Match Attax, it is another collecting obsession – currently Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

Hitting on an Idea

manchester-united-ander-herrera-195-topps-match-attax-2014-2015-football-trading-card-69617-p[ekm]219x300[ekm]It was in conversation with our brilliant Primary 5 teacher, that we hit upon an idea for using the cards in the classroom. If you are not familiar with them have a look at the image. As you can see they are a goldmine of data for older children. Our teacher loves the idea of the cards teaching the children the concept of trading and bartering as well as encouraging face-to-face engagement that can be sometimes missing in our technological revolution. He came up with some ideas for his class – I then went had had a think about my older and more advanced children.

Handling the Data

First task is getting the children to organise a team of players and ‘mining that data’ from the cards. We organised the data about the players into groups, created a tally table and then converted that data into a bar graph that represented the spread of the abilities in the team. A great activity that gave the children an introduction into using the data.

I also have some very weak children in my class. To accommodate them, their task wasWP_20141209_10_14_12_Pro to organise the data in the cards into ascending order for each player. This task is simple but from looking at the card again, you can see for some children this organisation of data and working memory could be quite tricky. It also gave those children a bit of a head start in a later activity.

Mean, Median and Range

WP_20141209_10_13_29_ProThe second activity for the cards was to organise the data and apply these three concepts to it. This is a topic that the children do cover in class, but at times it can be quite dry – book focused and removed. In this case, it was anything but, the children were able to take the same data for each of the cards and apply three different Data Handling concepts to them. Again, there was complete engagement in the activity – a paired activity for the children as they were then able to check each other’s answers. What also worked for my weaker children was that they were already aware of the lowest and highest values on the cards and were able to participate in finding the range of data. In each of these cases – Mean and range – the children used calculators to get the answers (the focus was the finding of the concept as opposed to spending a lot of time doing written calculations).

Where on the pitch?

The third activity has involved letting the children create a formation of players on the pitch. They then take this formation and plot it on a pitch that I have created. The higher ability children work in 4 quadrants; with a group working in one quadrant and a final group plotting in the first quadrant of letters and numbers coordinates.

Extra Time

I have extended some of the higher ability children by asking them to find fraction probability data – for example, what is the chance of getting a player with a speed score below 50 from your outfield players? By keeping this to the outfield players, the children are working in base ten – ensuring that the answers can be kept relatively simple. This is then further enhanced by getting these children to then convert their answers into a smallest equivalent fraction then into a percentage equivalent.


There has been excellent engagement from all of the children throughout the activities and it has certainly brought the children’s interests into the classroom – something that is at the heart of the NI Curriculum. Even if children are not interested in collecting the cards or in football necessarily, they are engaged in the idea of using the cards in this way. The paired activity also helps engage and support children who otherwise might have difficulties. As well as this, the work can be very easily differentiated up as well as down to meet the needs in the classroom. I’m also fortunate to have a young son who is also interested in the cards and has quite a collection from last year. This is certainly a way to get cards into the classroom because you can be assured that there are quite a pile of discarded cards lying around houses!!!!

It’s amazing what comes from simple conversations!



Office Lens_20141218_220605_processedFinal activity in the week was the open ended task I gave the children – use data (a la Moneyball) where the children looked at player statistics and decided if the value of the player matched the statistics.

Top group used averages whilst main group used Office Lens_20141218_220552_processedtotal score (level 5 against Level 4). It was a very simple task – recommend 1 player from each position from a choice of five by comparing statistics. It was a very open-ended task that gave the children the opportunity to actually put the data into a ‘real life’ situation – Using Mathematics – where they had to recommend a player based on their research by comparing the statistics. Again, I’m left impressed by what my class can do. I pre-emptied the activity by referring to the thinking skills posters that I permanently display in class and they fully bought into the idea of what they were doing.Office Lens_20141218_220617_processed

OneNote to Rule Them All! Part 1


Really? A post dedicated to a piece of software such as OneNote? Despite the fact that I haven’t blogged in so long – I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some thoughts on my use of OneNote in my primary classroom – the difference it is making to me and the difference that I hope is then followed through on for the children.

I have been using OneNote on and off for a few years but, only now, am getting the chance to see how I can really put it to work. The fact that it is now accessible on our C2k network has, despite a few issues, made a massive difference to its use in the classroom.

I am using OneNote in a variety of ways:

Observation and Record Keeping

Parent-teacher Meeting Preparations

As a Mind-Mapping Collaboration tool

Helping parents support their children’s learning

As a ‘one-stop-shop’ record of my year

Hopefully the following might give you your own ideas on how you might make your life easier.

Observation and Record Keeping

As I have mentioned, I have been using a Surface RT in class to keep my planning up to date. However, one of the biggest changes has been the use of OneNote to enhance the record keeping process.

I have created a ‘OneNote Book’ for my year that has a number of different sections – one of these being a section for the pupils. This section has a page for each child (more of which can be added to as sub-pages) and it is here where I can keep detailed records of the children’s progress.

At this point, my Windows Phone with OneNote built in also comes into play. I have it synced with my OneNote account so that every change can be entered across a variety of devices.

As I am marking children’s work. I can take a photograph of it using a straight-forward photo or enhanced through OfficeLens for the Windows phone. This is then imported straight to the child’s page where I  build up a record of the child through the year in the different subject areas. This evidence then is used in Parent-Teacher Meetings to show the examples of work – instead of having to hunt down books and look through them for that ‘piece of work that stood out’  and you want to share. The ability to sync from my hone to the page is excellent and really makes life a lot easier. Then, once embedded,  I can simply delete the images from the phone – thus not taking up lots of space!

This record is built up through the year – meaning that when it comes to writing a meaningful end of year report, I have excellent samples of work and observations sitting to hand to use. To me, this is the epitome of being able to work smarter – not harder – and freeing up time over the year. As well as this, I feel that I am developing a full understanding of the children in the class as it is constantly updated and freshened.

Observations are always a finger-tip away – whether it is one my phone / through the use of the Surface RT or the OneNote Online tool where I can access the same notes and make changes in the browser window if needed.

OneNOte 1


Going, Going, Gone…

Sleepwalking into it…

paperless-1It sort of crept up on me… then there was the dawning realisation that it had actually happened – that inevitable feeling that there was no going back and no idea how I was going to cope.

A paperless work environment wasn’t something I had actually wanted or strived for. There were too many ideas that needed sorting / written down. There were observations that needed to be completed and reflected on. There were too many documents that required printing, studied and dissected. There was the planning – daily / weekly / half-termly / termly… all needing to be written down and handed on. As well as that there was also the preparations for the Parent-Teacher Meetings and reporting on the NINA and NILA assessments.

Then, just at half-term I realised that I had gone through the first 8 weeks having done all this without resorting to a paper copy of anything of the above (except for the copy of the results for the parents – which, even then,  I had contemplated emailing).


Waking up

onedriveIt never occurred to me that I might be able to do this in the C2k environment and it does speak volumes about all the positives in the new provision in that it has essentially contributed to this change happening.

The biggest change in this has been the ability to access cloud storage – namely One Drive – where I store all my documents now. This has meant that I am able to access my teaching planners on my school computer without having to print them out to annotate on them. I have them permanently open on my desktop and can annotate and change as much as I want.

As well as this, it has been the ability to use my own Surface RT device in tandem withMicrosoft_Surface_RT-e1360270484638 this setup. I can have that up-to-date planning at my fingertips anywhere I go in school and am not now tied to the desktop / laptop to do all this. Evaluations of lessons and notes for children’s progress can be completed on the ‘fly’ in the knowledge that there is seamless syncing between devices on OneDrive. The Surface RT is the first thing opened on the desk in the morning to help me through the day!

For my coordinators and principal, instead of handing in reams of notes – it is now a link in an email where they can access all this planning and work with it, accordingly. It will be interesting to see if other teachers start taking this approach. Personally, I feel that it is making my planning much more meaningful – with the updates or changes easily made without too much fuss. Changes are highlighted there and then and can be acted upon on the same device.

However, the biggest single change in this has been the use of OneNote to support all of this in the classroom.

Fosbury Flop

Settling Dust

Microsoft-Education-Global-Forum-2014So, a week has now passed since returning home from the Microsoft Expert Educator Global Forum In Barcelona and I have my own thoughts on what was, again, an extraordinary event.

To be sharing a platform with so many committed and passionate educators was a privilege that I will continue to value and draw inspiration from. There were so many nations represented over the days and it is remarkable to see what some people are doing on what amounts to very little access to technology. It would be interesting to have people re-evaluate their issues with access to technology when you hear stories that include one teacher ‘smuggling’ in her laptop so that some of her 100 students get at least some access to technology to broaden their horizons.

Again, I have to pay tribute to my own Principal who gave me permission to attend the Forum for the week in the knowledge that it will increase the school’s profile and that it would have a positive impact on our students. Some teachers who attended the Forum had their wages docked!!! How’s that for encouraging innovation in the classroom?? Awful!

It is also an opportunity to meet with and mix with a range of cultures during the event –WP_20140311_10_27_53_Pro to learn from each other and see what the different approaches to education in each other’s countries are. We were given a Learn-a-thon working group where, briefly, our team (which consisted of teachers from Hong Kong, USA, Egypt and India a well a myself0 had to design a learning task that we would take back to our schools to use with each other. Although very difficult to organise given the significant language barriers, we had some modicum of success. However, share a pint with me and I will tell you the full story! ;)

What did come out of it was the chance to work with the wonderful Chelsei Fox and Debbie Chan as we pursued our group – One World, One Voice, One Choice – and look forward to working in partnership with these committed and excellent teachers in the future.

High Bar

The Fosbury Flop of the title refers to Dick Fosbury who completely changed the approach to the High Jumps with his radical technique. Of course, by doing so, he also did one thing – raised the bar higher. Suddenly, it wasn’t innovation anymore – it became a way of reaching greater heights and, ultimately, watching as others took the idea and crafted it to their way.  But it was still the same technique that he introduced.

In this way, I feel that I might also be hitting that plateau. When does being innovative become the norm (not that I am suggesting that I am any more innovative that anyone else) and turn into an unstructured attempt to do things too differently – just to feel ‘innovative.’?

I am always advocating that we, as teachers, should always be learners first. We should be evaluating our own practice and looking to see where it can be changed or improved upon. I think that I might have to do my own evaluation; a critique of where I really am right now with my teaching.

Should I be looking at the curriculum to see where I can change it, mash it up, ‘technify’ it – so to speak – to make it relevant to my class as I see it? For example, had planned to get my children to retell the story of Irish emigration through Scratch animation over the next few weeks – hereby increasing their programming skills as well as helping to understand a period of history (I hope). But then, is that only my interest? Might it not be better for their passage into Post Primary that I give them the facts, assess them on it and then move on? It’s certainly traditional and something that would be more recognisable as teaching and learning.

All Flop and no Fosbury

Like most people I know in teaching at the moment, we are struggling to get by on the mountain of workload; embedding the curriculum; struggling with the new tech, wading trough paperwork – while at the same time trying to deliver lessons that are engaging and differentiated up as well as down. That doesn’t include the plethora of other responsibilities – however, everyone works hard and this isn’t a complaint.

WP_20140311_09_23_58_ProI ‘genuinely’ think I’m running out off steam. The project that I took to Barcelona was, as I said in passing, ‘just’ a literacy lesson. And that’s all it was – with a slight slant. But, was I doing it to give the children a valuable experience at the expense of other curricular time or did I approach the project in the way that I did because people expect me to do these things? That is something that I think have to evaluate. I know that they really enjoyed it and it was, when really examined, a good opportunity for the children to embed their Thinking Skills – the 21st Century Learning that Microsoft Education hold very dear.

I just don’t know. Maybe it is a confidence ‘thing’? Do I always want to be pushing boundaries I hope that there are a generation of teachers who are more than willing to think creatively and share it with others The success of TeachMeet Northwest is reassuring and I hope that future TeachMeets in NI continue to find that new generation willing to change things.

New Toy – ACER W510

From what I have posted in the past it is obvious that I work very much rooted in a Windows environment. Indeed, part of the reason for doing this blog is because of my success at the Microsoft Innovative Teacher awards in 2010.

More about forthcoming Barcelona trip soon ;)

Take your tablet

Since that time, the rise of the tablet has been unstoppable and this is primarily through Apple’s behemoth… Its infiltration into the education market has been remarkable and it has opened up a range of educational opportunities like never before. Its ease of use attracts nervous users who are familiar with their iPhones and iPods hoping that the experience will be similar – and in that, it is very much so. However, in these times not everyone has the budget for Apple’s tablet.

It has been well reported that Microsoft has been late coming to the game – with the release of Windows RT alongside Windows 8 being an addition to an already bulging market of iOS and Android offerings. And this is true – but I do think that lots of people are having their heads turned by shiny silver stuff without maybe taking a good look at what is already there.

However, I remember seeing all this before Apple came to the market….

‘Oh….Shiny Thing…’

So…. Shiny, silver ACER W510 landed into my lap for a trial run a couple of weeks and I have to say that I am smitten with it. I’m not going to go into all the tech specs – they can be found here.

However, I am going to reflect on how it has been used in class and at home and my time with it.

First up – it is running windows 8.1 Pro with absolutely no issues! First job I did was install Kodu followed by MovieMaker for the work going on in class.

Both work with ease – real ease which is brilliant to see on the Atom processor. I was sceptical – but it worked straight away. The added benefit of being able to use a mouse in the USB meant that Kodu was a success as well as plugging in an XBOX controller to use the programme.

The separation from keyboard to tablet is extremely smooth and a real benefit in the classroom. The children were able to take the tablet out and film a project, bring it back to the keyboard and use MovieMaker to edit their film using the keyboard and mouse controls. Now, I think iMovie is an excellent piece of software for the iPad and gives children an easy way into movie editing. But, I find it too simplistic – so much is done for you that the actual skill of creativity is taken over sometimes. MovieMaker isn’t the complete answer, either, but I find it a great piece of software for the children to extend their skills.

They edited their piece of film on the same device instead of having to upload the footage from a camera – the problem of finding digital cameras / flip cams that don’t work properly, etc. taken out of the equation.

The benefit of the W510 running W8.1 ‘out of the box’ is massive. Although it doesn’t have a CD drive, many of the programmes I would be using in class are downloadable and can be accessed on the device.

Let’s get physical

No bones about it – I love the feeling of the physical keyboard in my hands. In fact, I am doing this entry on the W510 – something that I tried on an iPad and got frustrated with. I love the fact that I can see the full screen while working – have a full Office experience when I need it as well as being able to multi-task the screens. Yes, I know that there are a multitude of keyboards for iPads and have used them very successfully – but there is something natural about the W510’s keyboard + trackpad / tablet + touchscreen combination. It just works! It works really well… One niggle is that the model I am using has the US keyboard style. When setting it up for UK use – the ‘@’ and ” keys reverse – as well as trying to work out how to get ‘\’ onto the screen to log onto the C2k network! However – just a niggle.

I like Windows 8. There, I said it! I like the natural flow of the Live Tiles with the practicality of the PC experience. I feel that it comes into its own with the W510 solution. I have been using it as a consuming tablet around the house as well as a productive laptop for school and work. That combination is, I feel, successful.

Identity Crisis

So… does it have to be a tablet or a laptop? Can it be both? As in The Lego Movie (go with me here) it can be both at the same time – just like Good Cop / Bad Cop. I definitely think that it has a place for both. The 270+ degree keyboard acts as a stand making the W510 an excellent personal multimedia device. I have had it playing my music playlists around the house whilst in stand mode – a discrete piece of kit. And also used it in stand mode for cycling training videos from YouTube. It sat securely on a shelf and was more than ready for the job.

As well as that, I found myself lying in bed reading from the Kindle App (synced wonderfully to my account) as well as having the Bing News App available to switch to when I wanted. As well as this, I had my headphones plugged in and was able to listen to my music via streaming service.

Since getting my hands on the W510, my laptop has remained in my bag! The once attractive 15 inch now seems unweilding, clumpy and ‘too much’ like a laptop. The W510 has ticked every box that I needed and has replaced the laptop in all ways. It is ultra portable and was a great device to take out and work on presentations that I have been doing. Indeed, there were a lot of curious public glances as I switched between tablet and keyboard mode – just for the fun of it :) all the files I needed were in my Dropbox and SkyDrive account and I was able to access them with ease to continue work already begun.

And I haven’t mentioned the battery life! 18 hours!!! 9 hours each in the keyboard dock and the tablet. It holds it too! I have given it a good hammering over the past two weeks and have had to charge it only three times! Very impressive!

‘Appy Enough

Of course, the big issue that W8 RT has had since its launch has been the sparse App store. It is an issue – but the gap is shrinking – albeit very slowly. How could it be any other way- given the head start. I don’t know if there are a lot of Apps on the store that I need as the W510 will run desktop mode and Office applications / Programmes that I need. The Micro HDMI to VGA cable meant that I was able to link it up to my IWB to demonstrate MovieMaker… as well as demonstrating how to use it to the class before they were let loose. Indeed, I intend to use it to give my presentation to a forthcoming conference – a combination of tablet usage (swiping to move to slides) and Laptop (tapping to open links) should showcase its versatility (though the Air capabilities of iPad are remarkable).

I have yet to fully explore the App store for Apps that I will use – but am sure that I will be able to report in the future.


So, where do we go as a school?

I want to give my pupils the widest experience as possible and have a vision of integrating technology throughout the school in a  way that they are prepared for all eventualities. So, I hope / intend to put iPads into a number of classes where the teachers have expressed an interest and tablet PCs into the other classes. The pupils will then progress through the school developing their skills in all areas and leaving us with, hopefully, a wealth of knowledge to carry them on in their new environments.

You may have noticed that I said ‘tablet PCs’ above…

The ACER is 18 months old and time (and tech) marches on. ASUS have recently added a similar model to their range of tablet PCs – the T100 and it has got me really excited. It is very similar to the W510 in form factor but is also extremely quick (according to reviews) and I wonder if I will leave the W510 behind knowing that it introduced me to the W8 tablet universe but was edged out by a younger model?

I would love ACER to upgrade the processor to a more recent one – to keep the W510 ahead of the game and the gaining competition.

As  a general class tablet / PC I couldn’t recommend it enough. The 32GB and 64GB is expandable with Micro SD up to 64GB. There is Skydrive / Dropbox storage available – working on the new transformed C2k network (with which it is compatible). It has the USB slot (expandable with a hub). It runs Windows 8.1 comfortably. Lightweight and portable. Full Office capabilities. Runs Windows 8 Pro programmes – though I wouldn’t try to exert it (but would you in a primary classroom?. The expanding App store being added to daily. Battery life is a real bonus – as well as being able to ‘hot desk’ keyboard docks around the classroom – no one is limited to one place.