Easily Swayed

So, at first I didn’t really get Sway.

At first glance Sway is just another way of making presentations – one that isn’t quite as good as PowerPoint. I thought I knew the pitch; keep the kids engaged by using an alternative presentation tool. I remember the same argument when I spent hours producing my first Prezi that would have taken a few minutes in PowerPoint, but yes, they were impressed.

Nowerdays, I’m not prepared to invest hours for a few muted wows from the audience.  If I am going to invest my time then new software or apps have really got to impact on teaching and learning or smooth my workflow.

Isnip_20160324001537t turns out that Sway can work on both of these counts. Firstly, Sway is really simple to use.  The use of ‘Cards’ to edit the content is fairly intuitive which means that getting your content in takes just a few minutes.

The different type of cards each have their own particular features which makes them easy to use and very quickly you can have a whole presentation running.

Searching for conent to add to the cards is pretty easy too. Content is automatically presented within Sway from a pretty good list of sources, although I have to admit that I have always had a soft spot for Google Search which is not there.




As well as being pretty easy to use, Sway produces a nice looking online presentation, and if you are too busy yourself, then simply sharing an edit URL means that you can work collaboratively with colleagues to produce the finished Sway.

The great things about these presentations is that they can be easily distributed by just sharing the URL   You can also restrict viewing to people within your organisation, and this, together with the collaborative features of Sway, make it a great choice for producing what might have been traditionally printed documents like newsletters.

Our newsletter will be accessed by people on all sorts of devices, from staff sitting at a 32″ monitor tot those crossing the yard with their mobile phones. The great thing about Sway is the responsive design it produces, which means it always looks great on any device here is our latest 


More importantly, the easy share feature of Sway means that pupils can now use Sway to reach in International audience with their work. This gives their work real purpose and through teacher facilitation can motivate pupils, build international partnerships and give pupils a new perspective. Groups of pupils around the world, or around your classroom can share and collaborate as a co-authors simply by sharing a url.

A bit of experimenting with embedding sways has also been interesting. You can embed Sway onto a webpage which means that webpage editing no longer needs to be left to the geeks. The geeks can do the embedding, and then anyone with the edit URL can update the Sway which then of course will update on the website. A great, simple way of getting easy to edit content onto your website. I’ve tried it on the BaeBagan website and it looks pretty good!

Turns out that Sway offers more than just a different way of doing presentations. Looking forward to using it more in the future.












Rise to the Surface


It was always going to be a challenge to distribute 100 Surface Pro 4s to 100 teachers and expect them to be able to use them.  Made harder when you are opening a new school next September with staff who work in four different schools until then.  Few teacher training days, few directed hours, few options.

If the bacon sandwiches weren’t enough to convince 50 staff they had made the right decision to volunteer a whole Saturday in the holidays, then soon after our 8:30 start the Rock Star Microsoft trainer Jennifer King @JKESEdu, and the Ultra-Energetic Surface expert George Isherwood convinced them. Being around people who are passionate about what they do is a real privilege, and our training day proved just that. Jen and George oozed passion, and knowledge, and patience, and joy, and all-American verve.

George walked us through the Surface Pro 4, the tablet that really can replace your laptop. He showed us the power of the pen and people started to get excited. Who could have predicted the gasps of delight as teachers smiled for Windows Hello for the first time? Who could have predicted the grins as teachers yanked away their keyboards. Who could have thought that teachers deserved this 21st Century device. Well, we do, and I love that feeling it gives you, that you have actually been invested in rather than just provided for.

OneNote is exciting to me. That sounds sad if you take it on face value, but its not about the product. Its about seeing the power it gives to teachers to organise, collaborate, distribute and develop resources. The power it can give to our students as well as our teachers. That’s what I find exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better trainer than Jen, because what she communicated to our staff was not only how she loved the tool, but how the tool empowered her to transform her teaching, and how it promoted learning and skills in her students. Great teachers love to learn from a great teacher who obviously puts students first.

I knew that learning OneNote and the Surface would be a challenge, but as a full time geek and edutech fan its not always obvious what the challenges are.  Yes, there was the technical challenge of preparing a new domain and tenant and not least 50 Surfaces for the day. The ICT Team at Neath Port Talbot Schools and Learning rose to this challenge with as much passion and gusto as we could ever have hoped for. And then the technical challenge of making those Surface devices ‘user-ready’, for which I roped in my technician, head of ICT and some dedicated pupil digital ambassadors. These challenges were ones I had control over.

OneNote 2016, OneNote app, OneNote Online, Office 365, Groups, the cloud, syncing. Terms that I might use every day in MIE Expert conversation.  To a teacher in the cloud for the first time they are challenging and confusing concepts. I am proud that we were able to lay bare these difficulties, and support one another in a journey to understanding them. If we are to make the most of these tools as educators, then we need to understand more than just where to click. Once we understand the cloud we begin to realise how it can transform our approach to planning, reduce our workload and enhance teaching and learning.

Asking staff to volunteer their time on a National Rugby weekend was always going to be difficult. I know that sometimes I get the work-life balance thing wrong myself and I didn’t want staff to feel pressured into attending. I didn’t want staff to feel like we were setting a precedent by holding unpaid activities on a Saturday.  I didn’t want those that couldn’t make it to feel like they were missing out. But what we achieved on the day was worthwhile. We invested in ourselves. We invested in each other. We invested in the future, and it was worth it.

Now we have the challenge of taking our experience from the day and ensuring the rest of our staff and pupils get the best quality training we can deliver. We might not have the Jen and George show (I will be inviting them back!), but now we have 50 staff full of excitement, and skills, and knowledge; staff full of passion about what they do as teachers and the beginnings of understanding of how the Surface and OneNote can help them, which they can share with the rest of the team. By working as a team, as well as syncing, we’ll all rise to the Surface.

Thanks to @nathancumpstone for this video record of the day.

Surface and OneNote – Episode 1

Surface and OneNote – the perfect combo for teaching and learning.

Ysgol Bae Baglan is a brand new, state of the art, all-through state school which will open in September 2016 for 1600 3-16 year olds. The information technology and computer systems at the school have to live up to the ambitions of the school to deliver sector leading teaching and learning.

There was always going to have to be an innovative solution which reduced costs and space requirements, and now we have just that. We will actually see the number of traditional PCs in school start at a very low number and then fall. Instead, teachers and pupils will be using the very latest Surface hybrid devices.

Each teacher will be using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which brings all the best tools for teaching and learning together in one device. As well as a keyboard, the Surface has a digital pen which can be used to write on device just like a traditional pen – this is known as digital inking. This means that teachers can directly comment in their own handwriting on work created on a computer and save their written comments, drawings and diagrams for future reference.

With the Microsoft wireless video adapter fixed in all projectors, teachers will connect their Surface tablets directly to the front of any classroom and show the content to the class. As the teacher writes on the Surface, it appears projected to the whole class. Teachers can draw together traditional ways of working alongside new digital multimedia content making lessons more engaging and interactive.

Pupils will be working on a Surface 3 device, the little sibling to the proud Pro 4. We believe that digital inking will offer our pupils new ways of working and we avoided the cheaper devices that were keyboard only.  There is plenty of research out there that emphasises the importance of writing and we want to find new ways of engaging pupils in doing just that.

Both Surface devices work in perfect combination with Office 365 cloud technologies, which means that work that the teacher creates for the class is no longer saved in school, but instead securely on the Internet.  This means that work in class will always be available for pupils at home.  As well as supporting homework and communication with parents, this new way of working will be of great benefit to those pupils who need extra support and in stretching the most able learners by enabling out of the classroom learning.  And of course, we have installed the latest version of OneDrive which sync content directly to the Surface, which eases worries about internet connectivity.

The Surface devices connect through a hybrid Azure AD which means that users can login at home and continue working as if they were in school.  The hybrid AD means that we can still apply policies and manage the devices, but by making all users administrators and reducing the lock downs on the machines, we hope to ensure that users really feel ownership of their device and it becomes part of their personal toolkit for teaching and learning.

One of the most important aspects of the technology infrastructure is the use of Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is the perfect tool for collaboration and the perfect partner for the Surface.  I have set up collaborative OneNote notebooks for each department in a OneDrive space and shared with all members of the department.  This means that teachers in a department can easily collaborate and combine resources, something we want to encourage right from the start, but the notebooks are not held in any of the teachers’ personal OneDrive spaces.

Alongside their collaborative, staff only, resources OneNote notebooks, staff also have access to a department administration notebook. This has been made possible from the use of Outlook Groups which I have set up for each department. Outlook Groups really is a world-class tool for teams, and together with their Group OneNote notebook, each department has a group conversation email, calendar and files area. Access to the department OneNote notebook is really easy if you are using the latest version of Outlook 2016, but even easier if you then open the notebook in OneNote 2016 and keep it open there…forever!

The ease with which OneNote 2016 manages all of your notebooks, allowing you to have them all open at once, means that everyone can easily access their work. And of course, each notebook is synced to your Surface so you can continue to work even when you don’t have the Internet available.

Just when you start thinking ‘enough OneNote already’, sorry, there is more.  Alongside their collaborative resources notebooks and Outlook Group notebook, each teacher is also provisioned with OneNote Class Notebooks. These are personal notebooks for each teacher and each class. The Class Notebook creator tool manages all of the permissions so that one teacher and all of the pupils of a class have access. Content can then be easily copied from a department collaborative notebook, adapted if necessary and shared with pupils. Don’t forget of course that by using a Surface, work can then be completed, and marked, anytime, anywhere, with a digital pen.

More tools are sure to be in the pipeline to make the management of these Class Notebooks even easier – if they weren’t easy enough already!  Oh, and I have to mention the latest learning tools that have just been added to OneNote because they are another reason why we know we have chosen the right tools.

One of the greatest challenges will be in ensuring that all of our staff and pupils are fully trained and digital-ready for the opening of  Ysgol Bae Baglan in September. In the first teacher training day in January, all teachers had a day with the new ICT systems. Last Saturday, the Surface devices, OneNotes and cloud working were rolled out to around 50 teachers, school leaders and support workers.  Along with the school’s two Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts and digital leader group, the staff were joined by two inspirational experts; trainer Jennifer King and Surface Business Development Manager George Isherwood. More about that another time!


The rollout now continues to the remaining 60 teachers, 100 support workers and 1600 pupils and we couldn’t be more excited!

Look out for Episode Two in May.


Beneath the Surface

Times of transition are tough going, but I love them. They are an opportunity to be intentional about new habits.

With a new school we can make a new normal, we just have to be bold enough to do what we believe in. “Who we are tomorrow begins with what we do today” and there is no greater risk than to be afraid, stand still and attempt to do what we have always done.

For about three months I have known that soon would come a meeting with staff where I told them about our ICT strategy; only I didn’t know when it was going to happen. When it did come, I knew it would be difficult; elegantly floating the simple idea that technology can enhance what we do as teachers, whilst the realisation of what a cloud based one-to-one environment means to working practices furiously paddled beneath.

I predicted the arguments that would be made; some would quote the cost and the undeserving nature of the children, or perhaps reel off the last big ICT revolution that went nowhere. I knew there would be a backlash from the techno-phobic; those lacking in exposure to technology and the others who are truly non-believers. Points about technology failure, staff training and a perceived move away from teaching and on to technology; all real concerns. Moreover, for all of those that were on board, I knew there would also be that nagging doubt that we just couldn’t pull it off.

But I was wrong.

When faced with a challenge it is always best to have the best. So I surrounded myself with the strongest, finest, most knowledgeable, positive people I could and I made sure we had the most impressive technology we could. I think this paid off. I don’t know whether listening to the conviction of the Headteacher or the passion with which the rest of my team spoke was what convinced people. Perhaps it was simply the realisation that the Headteacher, SLT and ICT teams are all committed to this way forward. By the end of the day staff were as positive as I could of ever hoped. Overwhelmed, definitely, but excited.

Maybe it was just holding their Surface Pro 4s that made it all become real. Certainly staff were excited by the device and the things they will be able to do on it. “Inking in” will be a term we all get used to very quickly because it is what we do already, but the Surface Pro 4 helps you extend the possibilities. Annotating directly onto an existing PDF resource transforms your way of thinking, but only because it feels so natural on the Surface Pro 4 and the device promises us it won’t get in the way of learning.

And now we can move on. The conversations don’t have to be about what we will have, but will be focussed on what we can do with what we will have. The conversation can be about teaching and learning and not about the technology. Sure, when we all wake up the risks and arguments will still be there, but now I am confident we can face them as a whole staff. We have a long journey ahead of us, but now that journey has started. It will be difficult, and it will feel overwhelming at times. But we will achieve it together.

I think Diana had it right, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they don’t know they want yet.”

A bright Outlook. Much more than group email.

For the last couple of weeks I have been using Outlook 2016 on my Surface device. I am impressed.

Firstly, is the familiar look and feel to previous versions of Outlook; it doesn’t feel like an entirely new experience, but it does feel better.  There are more layout options or at least, they seem easier to find.  It may well be the case that some of the features below were always there, but the interface in 2016 has encouraged me to click around more. Things seem easier to find.  Moving from Outlook 2010 has been a very positive experience.

Let’s take a couple of features that I think will increase my productivity.  I have switched on the people pane – it was always there showing a group of ghostly heads, but now I am using it much more.


When I am sent an email it now seems much easier to see the other emails from the same person or anyone in the group. I can easily find attachments and scheduled meetings. It is a great feature.

Taking about attachments, another thing I am loving is the add attachment button which now suggests recent documents I have been working on. I think this feature might save me about three seconds, but beyond the time, it now feels like the software is working for me rather than against me.


The calendar views are as good as they every were, but whilst looking around I found this button:


Pressing this button not only sets up the meeting, but provides the link in the email for people to join.

This is so easy.  Was it always there? I can now set up a group skype meeting with a single press and the suggested times bar points out the conflicts.   Just when I thought that this was good, I discovered you can add a Skype call to any appointment right from the appointment ribbon.

skype2Whether this was there or not before isn’t really an issue for me.  What is important is that now I have found it and as time goes on and become more and more content with the idea of meeting via skype rather than face to face. I will definitely use this feature.

But I want to move on to something that is definitely new.  I have been using Office Groups for a while now, but through 365.  For my school, Ysgol Bae Baglan, I have set up groups for each subject area.  Groups give you the basics such as group email conversation, and a group calendar, and a group files area. But groups go one step further in providing a group OneNote notebook.  These group notebooks are accessible to all users in the group and mean that  collaboration across the group is easy.  Now Outlook 2016 has made it even easier!


My groups appear within Outlook so now I have instant access to my group conversations and calendar without going via the website. Even better, the groups ribbon gives easy access to all the group features.


From the ribbon of course, you can create new private or public groups from right within Outlook. I can start a new conversation with my group, add calendar items, edit the group membership, edit the group features such as the name, description, group image and subscription options. But even better, right there are the buttons to access group files and the group OneNote Notebook. This Notebook provides a natural, easily accessible place for teachers to store and share department documents and resources. I have made the groups teacher-only groups, so I see documents such as specifications, assessment materials, developing resources and meeting notes all being stored here. This Notebook is a perfect partner to the OneNote Class Notebooks that departments will be using to share resources with pupils.

The reason I love Microsoft is that it is all about productivity. I know when I introduce Outlook 2016 to the rest of the staff they will be able to use it with very little training, and these new features feel like meaningful additions rather than prettification.

I suppose whilst I am raving about groups, I should mention the Office Groups app. It is a great partner for Outlook because I can unsubscribe from group emails meaning that my inbox will not be continuously bombarded, but I can still keep up on group conversations through the app or through Outlook.

The social ‘like’ features available in Outlook or on the app are also a nice addition. No more smiley face replies!

I should mention before I finish that our 365 tenant is the all-Wales National Tenant called Hwb. This means that now I can create groups made up of any teachers in Wales. Great for collaboration. We have also created a public group for ICT Technicians around the country to join.

As Outlook develops, I would like to see the Notebook open in OneNote 2016, or at least have that option, and I would love to see the files open in an explorer window rather than a webpage, but the people at Microsoft listen, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these developments come.  I would also be interested if anyone was using these groups with OneNote Class Notebook Creator because to me that makes sense.

If you haven’t already tried Outlook 2016 and Office Groups you should do so.  I can’t wait till the rest of our staff have access rather than going through Office 365 to access their groups. I’d love to hear how other schools are using it too.

21st Century Learning

In order to be a 21st century teacher is it necessary engage with technology, blog, tweet and develop a global PLN?

Perhaps not, but digital tools,  blogging, tweeting and networking challenges us to create engaging content that will be judged by our peers, challenges us to develop collaborative working practices and challenges us to engage with the ideas and creativity of a global network. These are the skills we need to be a 21st century learner.

For a while now, explaining how to fuse the skills of the 3Rs and the 4Cs  has been the goal of  many educational commentators. Developing frameworks that describe and measure 21st century skills has been a focus for many governments and their advisors.  So why do I think it is still not happening?

When introducing new specifications for GCSE Mathematics and GCSE Numeracy this year the Welsh Government tried to address how to make the specification fit for the 21st century.  I think they believe that the introduction of ‘problem solving’ style questions should encourage more teachers to develop these skills in pupils, but it won’t.

It won’t because it is not enough to see example after example of problem solving questions to know how to develop these skills in pupils.  Teachers need more that that. We need the knowledge, tools and motivation to encourage new opportunities for collaboration, communication between learners and creativity.  When given more and more examples of problem solving questions, the questions become just more of the thing that gets in the way; the Big C – Content.

The truth is that the demand to cover the content often gets in the way of developing understanding and the experiential learning that would develop 21st century skills.  The new specifications, between them, do nothing to reduce content. The guidance on developing problem solving skills simply loads on more content, and you can ask anyone, covering the content is teaching 101.  The demands of the new specs simply highlights the difference between me as a 21st century learner and me as a 21st century teacher.

As a learner, I choose my own content and my own pace of learning. I collaborate and peer review with those that I choose, and I test my knowledge through application to real world problems that I discover rather than taking exams.  My learning is self-regulated and this is why I love learning.

As a teacher allowing pupil self-regulation is hard.  I have to fight the urge to over-support learners with structure that drives them through the content. On top of that, I have clear ideas about what I think they need to know, not least because I have a new specification which is still driven by content, no matter what the style. Most difficult of all, I actually do want them to just know things, and sometimes the best way to get people to know things is just tell them. Drill and Kill doesn’t sound very 21st century, but I know differences in students performance are affected by how much they engage in deliberate practice.

So how do we get the balance right as teachers? Some of us, including me for the first time, blog, tweet and embrace the technology that helps us develop a global PLN. Others join a school based Professional Learning Community, attend Teachmeets, or engage in action research. What is common is that we see ourselves as self-regulated 21st century learners and rise to the challenge that lifelong learning presents. Finally, we must recognise the passion we have for self-regulated learning for ourselves and ensure that to some degree this is reflected in our teaching.