Microsoft Global Forum 2014 – Barcelona

Nicki Cooper at Microsoft's Global Forum in BarcelonaLast week I had the privilege of joining 250 educators from around the world in attending Microsoft in Education’s Global Forum in Barcelona. I arrived on Monday evening and was ready to set up my stand bright and early on Tuesday morning! I received my invitation to the event after winning an award at the previous Global Forum for my Kodu in the Klassroom project. All previous winners became Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators for a year  (along with many others through a selection process) and I was there to showcase the progression of my project over the past year. Throughout the rest of the day we were given a few different talks and took part in a team building exercise with the groups with which we’d be working later in the week.

First Day Highlights

Stuart Ball "App Man"

One highlight of the first day was the talk from “App Man” himself, Stuart Ball, talking about various apps that are available on Windows 8 devices, check out his blog post for the full roundup. Some of my favourites are:

  • OneNote - One of the best applications for educators, in my opinion, both the desktop and mobile versions are great. OneNote allows students and teachers to collaborate on projects and almost any file can be embedded within the pages. It certainly helps to keep me organised and I even use it for my lesson planning!
  • Project Siena An app for creating apps (I’ll talk about this one in more detail further down as I explored this in some detail later in the week).
  • NovaMind Mind Mapping  – Great tool for mindmapping, there is a free version and you can upgrade to get more features.
  • Createbook - App for creating ebooks and it’s free for one more day (until 21st March!).
  • Corinth Classroom B – Look at different parts of the human body in detail.
  • ChronoZoom – An app for creating interactive time lines.
  • Code Writer (I discovered this while browsing) – This is a professional looking app to enable developers (or in my case students) to write code in 24 different programming languages with colour-coded support for each. I had a quick play with using HTML and it works very nicely.

Day Two

The following day was the start of the opening key note speeches which began with Jan Muhlfeit (European Chairman of Microsoft), Jan highlighted, for me the importance of my subject from a careers point of view, the fact that their are 900,000 ICT jobs in Europe that are not fulfilled is something I can certainly stress to the young people I teach. He also made an interesting point when he posed the question: “Is Mercedes a software company or a car company?”, the answer seems obvious but he pointed out that 60% of their budget is actually spent on developing software! I found this amazing and wondered how true this must be for many other businesses that we wouldn’t necessarily categorise as the “IT Industry”!

During the speeches we were also introduced to BizSpark which gives three years of free software, support, and visibility for startups. We also learnt about the Imagine Cup, which is a Global student technology competition with categories of Games, Innovation and World Citizenship and this has some great prizes to offer. Well worth checking out!

Next up was the much anticipated keynote by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Education Worldwide, he told us about Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella and his passion for education. Anthony delivered a very well thought-out scenario, demonstrating the use of some key technologies and tools and showed how they neatly synchronised between home and school from both a teacher and student’s perspectives. He showed so many interesting new and upcoming applications throughout his demonstration, it was difficult to keep up! Some particular highlights for me were:

  • Lync, if you have Office 365 in school you will already have Lync. I have been using it myselft but wasn’t aware it had so many features. Anthony demonstrated that you can use this to create a collaborative drawing canvas, share the board, create polls and show the whiteboard. I need to go and play with it some more now!
  • Project Spark – the next step up from Kodu, I’ve talked about this in a previous blog post.
  • A Top Secret add in for PowerPoint which enables you to create rich and interactive content within the slide. I’ll share more on this as soon as I am able.
  • Power Map for Excel, this enables you to plot data in a spreadsheet straight onto a map graphically.
  • Class Policy, this is an app to take full control over the Windows 8 devices in your classroom.

He also demonstrated a fantastic use of Skype in school, shown in the video below:

Another thing I didn’t know is that on the Partners in Learning site there are curriculum resources posted every day that are themed around the Bing home screen.

On Wednesday the UK team introduced some of our European friends to the concept of a TeachMeet which was put together by Stuart “App Man” Ball and David Rogers. I worked with Ray Chambers to tell people about our experiences with the Hour of Code, while David Renton introduced us to xGames, a game that enables a teacher to make a quiz for their students to answer in groups using Xbox controllers, I hate to gloat but my team won his example quiz in the TeachMeet!


The last couple of days brought us the Learn-a-thon; this was a 24 hour activity in which we were divided into groups with peers from different parts of the world to design a learning activity that displays innovative use of technology in the three Millenium Development Goals of Poverty, Sustainability and Gender Equality. Our group were asssigned Poverty and investigated the use of Project Siena to develop a tourism app to bring visitors to poorer parts of the world. Two of our group members were from South America(Puerto Rico and Ecuador) and they highlighted the fact that tourism is what is needed in their countries to combat poverty.

I have to admit, this was the part of the event that I had not been looking forward to but actually I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile activity, despite the language barriers. I was very thankful for the Bing Translator app on my Surface which enabled myself and Paula from Finland to communicate with our two Spanish-speaking team-mates when our interpreter was not around. Here’s an overview of the project we came up with:

My role was to focus on using Project Siena, a tool for creating apps, to develop an example app that would be similar to what our students may produce. Once I got started (after watching a few tutorials on Youtube) I found it surprisingly easy to use and developed a semi-professional looking app by the end! Well done to the rest of Team 51 for all the effort you put in, even though we didn’t win the competition I’m really proud of the work we produced!

Team 51 in Barcelona

From left to right: Paula Vorne, Nicki Cooper, Hector Alvarez, Carmen Escudero and our Spanish interpreter!

Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony

The event ended with the Gala dinner and awards ceremony and I was delighted that the OffPerts, Scott Wieprecht and his team of lovely students won an award in the category for “Cutting Edge Use of Technology”, I was also pleased that fellow team mate in Group 51 above, Paula Vorne, won an award in the same category for her use of Kodu in entrepreneurship. Here’s the whole of the UK educators team celebrating after the dinner:

Team UK in Barcelona

Final Thoughts

So is there anything I would change about the event?

Maybe just one thing. In future events I would like to see more workshop-style activities run by my fellow educators (this is how the UK Forums used to be delivered). There could be different activities which we sign-up for, I know lots of people would have loved to spend time with my colleagues Ray, David and Simon to learn more about how to use TouchDevelop. I would have been happy to deliver a session on Kodu. I would also have loved to hear more about exactly how Zana from Kosovo was running her Technician club or how Todd’s students from the USA were creating their content. We had 250 “expert educators” present and I feel there was a lot more to be learned from one another. That’s my only criticism, as I’m not going to discuss the coffee (or lack of)!

Finally, some key messages and points to take home:

  • A child able to read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of 5
  • Translation software is REALLY useful!
  • Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration
  • As teachers we need to give more power to students and trust them, to learn they have to be allowed to fail along the way
  • Technology is nothing without great pedagogy

I’d like to close with the following quote from Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide Education:

“Don’t make technology the star, make it a tool to create amazing learning experiences.”


Posted in Computing, CPD, Free Stuff, ICT, Microsoft, Teaching, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hour of Code Week is Here!

Following on from my previous post about the UK Hour of Code I thought I should provide an update on how this is progressing. This week has been great fun with a range of events taking place both inside and outside of school! Firstly, prior to the event I took part in an interview for the Guardian and Observer newspapers. This went to press in the Observer on Sunday as well as on the Guardian website. Here’s the article from the newspaper:

Observer Article Hour of Code

Monday saw the official launch of the Hour of Code week at Westminster City School in London which I attended with a colleague and 8 of my students. We began by demonstrating the use of Kodu Game Lab to create simple games and my students were able to try out a range of other coding activities too:

  • The Great British “Code-off” – a competition between a game design student and a 13 year-old boy.
  • Angry Birds – Ray Chambers hosted this coding activity to introduce various programming principals such as selection and loops.
  • Computing without Computers – an activity led by Claire Lotriet to demonstrate the functionality of computer networks with some of her primary students.

The BBC did a nice summary of the event on their website too and I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with them for the article (click the image to view).

Nicki Cooper BBCBack in school our students have been taking part in their Computing lessons this week with activities in Kodu Game Lab and TouchDevelop. Some of the more advanced students have been trying JavaScript too!

Hour of Code Activities

We have also been running activities at lunch times after setting up a large touchscreen display in our department area. Students have been coming along and coding their own Flappy Birds game using the tutorial from

Lunchtime Hour of Code Activities


Staff from other departments and even our head teacher have been getting involved too. They were given the task of trying out the Angry Birds activity and we invited them into our Computing lessons throughout the week to learn coding skills.

Even parents haven’t escaped! We have sent all our KS3 students home with the homework task of “Get the Grown-Ups Coding“:

Hour of Code Homework

The idea is that the students sit down with their parents and work through the programming tutorials on the site. Once they complete the activity they get a certificate featuring both of their names. So far I’ve had some lovely feedback from parents (these are just a few who gave their homework in early!):

  • It was good to engage with [my daughter] on a new level, with her teaching me a new skill.
  • It was fun and enjoyable.
  • It was fun working alongside [my daughter] and getting involved with her homework, especially as it was interesting!

John Maddams completes Hour of Code

And I didn’t even let my own parents off the hook! I’ve been encouraging friends and family, through Facebook, to get involved as well and I’ve been tracking everyone’s participation through an online survey. Here is my own father looking very pleased with himself after earning his certificate! –>

. . . just my husband to chase next!


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The Hour of Code is Coming . . .

. . . are you ready?

The UK Hour of Code is a one-hour intro to computer science, designed to demystify code during  the week commencing 3rd March. If you haven’t heard of the Hour of Code, check out the website for more information. I’m really excited about it and we are hoping to make it really high profile in school, with parents and other teachers getting involved too.

KoduFirstly, I have prepared some resources around using Kodu. These essentially assume some prior knowledge and are aimed at secondary school students. If you are new to Kodu take a look at the getting started guide here.

The resource I have prepared is very code-focussed being hour of code and enables students to create their own basic quiz game. The tutorial can be found here and an example of the start of the game can be downloaded from here. I’m aiming to do this with year 7 and some year 8 and 9 groups. I’ve also added a homework activity for students to complete with their parents.

If you need further guidance with using Kodu check out my range of tutorial videos on YouTube.

With some of the more advanced groups in years 8 and 9 we’re going to try TouchDevelop. The TouchDevelop idea came from Simon Johnson’s showcase on his TouchDevelop Challenge site and I think the girls I teach will love the fact that they can combine coding with creating digital artwork.

I hope you enjoy the resources and are keen to make the Hour of Code a huge success in as many schools as possible.

Posted in Computing, ICT, Key Stage 3 | Leave a comment

Some BETT Reflections

After spending three days at BETT last week I thought I would share with you some of the highlights.

Nicki Cooper at BETT 2014Wall of Appiness

I was working on the Microsoft stand demonstrating the “Wall of Appiness” which was a showcase of the range of apps now available for tablet devices on the Windows Store. There is now a huge variety of apps available for education with some of my personal favourites being:

  • OneNote – I can’t stress the usefulness of OneNote enough, I use it for everything from personal shopping lists to lesson planning and minutes of meetings. I even used it (along with Excel) to plan my wedding! The app format on tablets and phones is very fluid and synchronises well with the desktop version through SkyDrive.
  • NovaMind – fantastic mindmapping app
  • My Study Life – a planning app to help students and staff organise their timetables and assignments
  • Kodu Game Lab – now an app version which incorporates touch controls very nicely
  • Adobe Photoshop Express – a condensed version of Photoshop
  • Corinth Micro Plant – zoom into parts of a tree in great detail

Check out Stuart Ball‘s post, which has a much more comprehensive list over on the Microsoft Teachers Blog.

One particular highlight on the stand was a visit from Paul Kercall an art teacher, writer and tablet artist who asked if he could use Fresh Paint across all the tablets on our stand; he had just visited the Nao robot so had a picture on his phone and proceeded to paint one of the robot heads across the devices, it was amazing to watch and I managed to capture the picture’s development on video, here it is speeded up considerably!:

Kodu Kup

Nicki Cooper and Kodu KupIn addition to the apps I was also showcasing Kodu Game Lab and we launched this year’s Kodu Kup competition which I am really excited about! We have made some changes from last year; this year there is no theme but the requirement is that the games will have a clear and well-thought-out storyline, this leaves schools open to fit the competition around any literacy work they are currently doing. Children will also need to enter as a team of three, create their own game studio and produce game documentation to support their game. Like last year the finalists will be invited to Microsoft HQ in Reading and showcase their games to the judges. The winners in each category will receive a Windows Surface RT and the overall winners will receive the Kodu Kup! Take a look at the video below to see an overview of last year’s final:

BETT Awards

BETT AwardsLast Wednesday also saw the results of the BETT Awards at a lovely black-tie event at The Brewery in London. I’m really pleased to say Kodu won the award for “Free Digital Content/Open Educational Resources”! Being part of the Kodu Kup team last year, it was really exciting to be nominated, the competition reached out to 70,000 children across the UK, encouraging them to get involved with coding their own games. Throughout the competition we provided schools with free teaching materials (not to mention the fact that the software is also free!). There is more to come this year! Last years’ competition was such a huge success so for this to be recognised at the prestigious BETT awards was fantastic!

Naace Impact Award Shortlist Nicki CooperNAACE Impact Award Nomination

I had another highlight on Thursday; I attended the NAACE stand to hear the shortlist of nominees for the NAACE Impact Awards only to discover I was on the shortlist for “Secondary Impact” for the resources I have been sharing on my website. It’s a real honour to be shortlisted, I couldn’t believe it when my name appeared on the screen!

General BETT Goodies

I did manage to have a wander around some of the other stands while at BETT and was particularly impressed with the following:

FUZE - This is programmable computer & electronics workstation that provides a sturdy metal casing for the Raspberry Pi with an integrated keyboard as well as an area on top to add a breadboard connected to a breakout board on the Pi. They sell kits with or without the Raspberry Pi, which also includes programming workbooks. I was very impressed! Here is what the kit looks like:


Nao the Humanoid Robot - I discovered this robot last year at BETT but unfortunately he was well out of my budget, however OptiMusic provide workshops to schools where they bring along the robot for the children to program using a variety of languages. I’m particularly interested in my students programming them using Python so I will be talking to my school about the possibility of running a day of workshops soon!

Rising Stars Switched on Computing - Another BETT Award Winner. Rising Stars have developed a range of primary resources for all subjects and have just realised a Computing pack, which we were giving away on the Microsoft stand.

I noticed there were a lot of Arduino and electronics based projects popping up at this year’s exhibition. I need to look into these in more detail as I’m certainly keen to get involved with some hardware programming in the future.


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Raspberry Pi Project: LCD Screen Programmed in Python

LCD ScreenFor Christmas I received a number of “toys” to play with from my husband. One of which was a geeky box of goodies for my Raspberry Pi that includes a breadboard, wires and an array of other electronic components including LEDs, resistors and an LCD screen. I immediately decided that the LCD screen was to be my  first Raspberry Pi Project (as I really can’t take any credit for the PiSofa)

My first job was to  solder some connection pins onto the LCD screen so I could connect it to the breadboard and  Pi using jumper wires. I followed this guide online to get me started but modified some of the wiring slightly. In the guide they used the LCD in 4-bit mode but I changed my wiring to set it up in 8-bit mode instead. I also later discovered that I needed some control over the contrast pin so wired in a potentiometer to allow me to adjust the contrast. This is how my wiring looks:

Wiring diagram for LCD screen and Raspberry Pi

Wiring diagram for LCD screen and Raspberry Pi

To initialise and set up the screen I used another guide to gain an understanding of some of the initialisation commands and created a bash script to set it all up and check it was working; this revealed a few wiring problems, and was also the point at which I added the potentiometer as the contrast was making it difficult to read my test letter “A”.

Now it was time for my main mission which was creating a Python program to control the LCD screen. First I worked on creating a program that simply mimicked the bash script, as this was quite untidy I set to work on reducing the amount of repeated code using functions to set pins using binary. In the original guide I had seen the data was set in hex but I prefer using binary as I understand the logic behind it more than using the hex data. Especially as I essentially just want to send True or False commands to the pins.

By this time I had found an even better guide  that told me what commands could be sent to the screen for initialisation and what they all meant. To initialise my LCD screen I am doing the following:

  • Setting all pins to output
  • Setting all pin values to false
  • Sending the code 38 in hex/56 decimal – Setting the LCD to 8-bit and 2 lines
  • Sending the code 1 in hex/decimal – Clearing the LCD display
  • Sending the code 0C in hex/12 decimal –  Sets the display to on and turns off the cursor
  • Sending the code 6 in hex/decimal – Sets the screen to entry mode

Below is how my initialisation function looks. I should note that prior to this I imported the GPIO and time libraries and declared the locations of each of the pins, setting up the data pins as a list/array.

LCD Initialisation Sequence

LCD initialisation sequence in Python

As you can see, this initialisation function calls another function to convert the integer values to binary, which in turn accesses a function that sets these values on the LCD screen. These functions looks like this:

Functions to convert to binary and set the control pins on the LCD screen

Functions to convert to binary and set the control pins on the LCD screen

After the initialisation sequence the screen is ready to display some text, I made a function that reads in a text sequence along with the line number, converts each character to binary then sends this value to my existing ‘setPins’ function to write the text to the screen. When actually writing to the screen it is important to set the RS pin to ‘data input mode’ by setting it to ‘True’, otherwise it is in ‘instruction mode’ and won’t display anything on the screen. This is how it looks:

writeText Function in Python

Function to write text to the LCD screen in Python

Once the functions have been created all that is left is to test them out by actually calling them in the code with some test data:

Calling the Functions

Calling the functions with some text to test out

I’m hoping to update this program with some additional functionality such as scrolling text and maybe transition effects. If you have any other ideas please comment below! For now though, I’m going to play with some of my other Christmas presents, which include BrickPi, MakeyMakey and Dead Rising 3 . . .

The full Python program for the LCD screen can be downloaded from GitHub. Happy coding and Happy New Year! :-)

Posted in Computing, ICT, Raspberry Pi | 2 Comments