Guest Post from Kevin Sait – Surface 3 and Office 365 in the community

Over recent weeks we’ve been hearing from Kevin Sait – Head of IT Strategy at Wymondham High Academy – about his schools journey with the Surface 3. That journey now extends beyond the gates of Wymondham, as Kevin takes his knowledge and experience out into community and into local primary schools, working with teachers and students to help them with choosing devices and familiarising them with all that Office 365 has to offer in an educational setting.

Office 365 is available for free to all students and staff at no cost as part of their schools’ existing Microsoft Education subscription. For more information and to check eligibility, please visit

Surface 3 is available at a 10% discount for education. For device specification and to find an authorised reseller please visit Surface in education.

Surface 3 and Office 365 at Spooner Row and Chapel Road

by Kevin Sait

Kevin Sait

It has always been my belief that high schools play a pivotal role in steering technology in the community. For us the end result is students leaving school with the experience of using enterprise grade software (the stuff they will use in business) and where possible a certification in that subject above and beyond the normal GCSE exams.

For Wymondham Academy we have been able to achieve that as our status as a Microsoft IT Academy has developed in the area. However during the last year I have switched the emphasis to ponder how the school could support our feeder schools. What could we do to invest in Year 5 & 6 children to give them a head start in using Cloud technologies and understanding the principals of “Sharing – Communicating – Collaborating”?

As an academy school we have a vested interest in making money and indeed the commercial arm of the school does. However this is an investment in people and time in the future. So we started an outreach programme this term using Surface 3 and Office 365 in the classroom. This is the story of Year 6 students from Spooner Row Primary School and how we got them and their teacher hooked on Surface 3 and using Office 365.

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Spooner Row School is an awesome village school based about 10 minutes drive from the high school. As you can see it’s pretty much everything you would imagine from being a Norfolk primary school in the country. From an IT perspective, they have a number of classroom desktop PC’s and a number of Apple iPad devices on a trolley that can be wheeled around the school as a bookable resource.

As and early adopter of the Surface 3 device, we ran a small number of training sessions where we invited primary schools for an Office 365 afternoon, really to show the great classroom collaboration tools in Office 365 such as OneNote Class Notebook and the new Office Sway. We invited people to bring their own device (BYOD) so they could use Office 365 on their own device, much as a student can here at the school.

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The image above shows staff from Chapel Road School near Attleborough on one of our Office 365 afternoons, and as you can see, staff have brought their laptops and their iPads with them to use on Office 365. However, the interesting thing you will see from the picture is the staff all made a beeline for the Surface 3 with its pen to use for the session. I have covered this in another blog post, but I really believe it’s an important point if nothing from a school budget perspective.

We see a lot of primary schools allocate teachers a laptop and an iPad, but why both? Well the iPad is a great a device with tons of apps, running a mobile phone operating system, but does not lend itself well to being a tool to foster skills such as communication and collaboration easily. Teachers find themselves not being able to use the iPad effectively to type reports or to leave feedback for students. So schools simply buy teachers both devices.

Now at that same price point we have the Surface 3 - indeed I am typing this blog post on mine right now. An effective all in one device, with a USB on the side so you can connect a docking station or your favourite device to and know it works. It’s also got Microsoft Office on it, a full size type-able keyboard, a three position kick stand and above all it’s got the Surface pen – which when used with tools like OneNote, Fresh Paint or even Staff Pad make the Surface 3 device better than the competition. I will come back to the apps a bit later in this post.

Anyway back to the Spooner Row story. Year 6 teacher Alice Whittingham came on one of our Office 365 afternoons, and was suitably impressed with OneNote Class Notebook, Office Sway and the Surface 3. Alice soon arranged another appointment with her head teacher and we ran through the portfolio of how to enhance Teaching & Learning in the classroom with Office 365.

The next stage was to drop over a shiny Surface 3 for Alice to use and get a feel for. We added a Microsoft Wireless Adapter to her projector in her classroom and soon had the Surface 3 projecting on the board.

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The Surface 3 in Alice Whittingham’s classroom, about to connect to the Microsoft Wireless Adapter, which really means the teacher has complete freedom in the teaching space with the device.

Alice’s initial feedback was how the device covered all aspects of her ‘two’ devices in one. She could freely move around the classroom, in tablet mode, or alternatively sit and work with students on a topic. The Surface pen allowed for students to show their dexterity on the screen, without having to stand up and write on the Interactive Whiteboard, which was a lot more of a positive experience. I really believe the inking capabilities are more natural on the device, and with palm-block technology the student or teacher can treat the device as a natural piece of paper.

So we soon came to running an Office 365 session with Spooner Row Year 6 students. Remember our rationale for this is to pump prime these students in thinking about the cloud, to make the choice of saving in the cloud to make documents more accessible and communicate and collaborate more effectively. These skills are then mapped into the use of Office 365, Microsoft Office Certification and giving students at Wymondham the best opportunities for being employment and college ready.

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Students at Spooner Row School collaborating with PowerPoint Online from Office 365 – as one student said ‘the cloud is where the magic happens!’

Like our sessions with staff, we brought some Surface 3 devices to use in the sessions. Again we saw students drawn to the Surface device. Why? In fairness, students are normally drawn to any tech that is new in the classroom, but with the Surface 3 students were giving up genuine feedback about the device.

It ranged from ‘the pen is awesome... it means I can paint on the screen’ through to ‘it’s so quick to use, and I really like to use the keyboard instead of the screen’

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Students at Spooner Row made a beeline for the Surface 3, liking the full size keyboard instead of typing on the screen. They chose to leave the iPads on the desk, very much like the staff members in other sessions.

After a couple of hours of collaborating in Office Online using PowerPoint and Word, we ran out of time, however we are hoping to run sessions on OneNote and Sway in the near future.

There was certainly a commitment from Alice Whittingham to continue using Office 365 in the classroom, and to use the OneNote Class Notebook to establish a digital notebook of students learning in Year 6.

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However, most importantly the Surface 3 proved its worth. I have mentioned before that I believe the majority of primary schools simply believe a tablet is an iPad. This comes from the huge success the device received and the fact there has really been no competitor on the market. It’s certainly one occasion where the education market has been driven by consumerisation of IT - the range of apps is huge for the iPad, if anything too huge perhaps. I liken it to the Facebook Friends scenario, some pupils who have 700 Facebook friends, when you ask them how many they speak to and you find it’s only about 10! It’s possible to make observations of the same ilk with apps.

What I am hoping for is that with the advent of Windows 10 on July 29th, then app developers will be keen to monetise their offering on the Windows store, bringing the range of apps to a range of device.

However as it stands now Surface 3, with the its kickstand, detachable keyboard and its ability to run apps and all your mainstream software essentially replacing your desktop and laptop in one device means the market is definitely changing offering schools more choice.

As for Wymondham, the benefits of Year 5 & 6 teachers using the same software, teaching core skills which are fundamental for high school is a real benefit, and the Surface 3 allows teachers to deliver that with confidence in the classroom.

The aim of the school is to generate a range of students who are cloud aware for the future, who come to the school with the knowledge of knowing when and why they would save to the cloud. For our primary schools, the aim is to upskill teachers with the same technologies, because all too often primaries are left to it with only occasional assistance from IT support technicians. So really it’s about partnership with the right technology and the right devices and that has proved to be the Surface 3 and Office 365.

I will finish with one quote:

I believe we may have made the wrong choice with the iPad for our Year 5 & 6 classes’

This is really quite powerful for me. It proves that there is now a wider range of tablets that fit education, which means schools can use the device to aid the way they teach.

The power of Surface 3 in the classroom has proved a winner with Spooner Row School - maybe it’s time to take a Surface for a road trip.

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