December 2014

Microsoft New England’s Best Blogs of 2014

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As the sun sets on another year, it’s time to look back and reflect on 2014. Here at Microsoft New England, we ramped up our blog efforts and are excited to share our top 10 picks of 2014! Enjoy and see you in 2015.

January 2014
Bridging Tradition, Technology and City Boundaries: A Call to Boston and Cambridge’s New Leaders
By: Annmarie Levins

February 2014
Local Leaders Welcome Microsoft’s New CEO, Satya Nadella
By: Lauren Metter

February 2014
CodeAcross 2014 with Code for Boston: Civic Hacking Our Way to a Better City
By: Cathy Wissink

March 2014
Eight-year-old Builds Windows Phone App; Watches Spongebob
By: Lauren Metter

March 2014
Microsoft Researcher, MIT and Brandeis Alum Leslie Lamport Receives Turing Award
By: Lauren Metter

March 2014
Of the People, By the People, for the People: Convening the Community on Civic Technology
By: Cathy Wissink

May 2014
Boston Startup LeanBox Makes Vending Machines a Healthy Venture
By: Lauren Metter

June 2014
Microsoft Named Best Place to Work by Boston Business Journal
By: Craig Hodges

August 2014
Microsoft New York Fellows Do Boston, Win HubHacks Challenge
By: Lauren Metter

August 2014
United Way’s Skype Surprise of a Lifetime
By: Dave Johnson

September 2014
The One Fund Center — Using tech innovatively to help survivors health
By: Cathy Wissink

September 2014
TEALS Expands in Massachusetts and Beyond
By: Aimee Sprung

October 2014
Kinems: Personalized Kinect-based Learning Games for Children with Learning Disabilities
By: Aimee Sprung & Lauren Metter

November 2014
Congrats to the winners of the first MassChallenge Civic Tech Sidecar prize sponsored by Microsoft: Lengio and Kinems
By: Aimee Sprung

November 2014
Looking Back: A Year of Civic Engagement in Boston
By: Cathy Wissink

December 2014
Q&A with NFTE New England: Changing the World One Young Entrepreneur at a Time
By: MSNE Staff

December 2014
CS Teacher Series, featuring
Alfred Thompson: The Importance of Computer Science
Adam Newall: How Computer Science Has Changed my Classroom
Scott Foster: Computer Science in East Boston By Scott Foster
Kelly Powers: What Teaching CS Means to Me

December 2014
CS Series: An Hour of Code Can Inspire a Lifetime of Creativity
By: Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA – 4) | December 2014

 

 

Get ahead of the storm with HelpBridge App

Microsoft_HelpbridgeAs we fight through the teeth of winter, many locals are still asking if they’re really ready for the next big storm.

Often the answer is “no.” And even when you think you have a plan in place, including an agreed upon meeting spot for family members, food, water and medical supplies, things can quickly get out of hand when the skies darken, the snow hits and the power goes out. Earlier this year, Director Kurt Schwartz told residents they must continually prepare for the region’s next major storm.

Many are turning to technology for an added layer of security. During times of disaster, social media and texting are quick and effective ways to communicate with friends and family, but it’s difficult to update multiple people on multiple sites. Last year, Microsoft launched HelpBridge, an app designed to help people connect with one another, and find volunteer and donation opportunities during a disaster.

HelpBridge is free across multiple platforms including Windows Phone, Android and iOS. It allows you to send status updates to pre-selected contact groups via email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook. Through your phone’s GPS capabilities you can also choose whether to share your location in your alerts, which can be especially helpful if you’re lost and need help.

The app also lets you connect with people who need help outside of the New England area. By downloading HelpBridge, you can find ways to volunteer or donate to the victims of disasters, like those affected by the recent volcano eruption in Japan.

Don’t wait for the next warning, download the HelpBridge app today.

3 Cambridge Seniors Win My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon with “Change Your Community” App

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Courtesy photo via wickedlocal.com: Cambridge’s Pharaoh Saunders, 17, center with microphone.

Last month, three Cambridge students from Prospect Hill Academy Charter School participated in the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon in Philadelphia, PA. Not only did they proudly represent Massachusetts in the competition, they also finished in first place!

Pharaoh Saunders of Cambridge, Daoud Sogoba of Somerville, and Jarad Parris of Brockton were tasked with imagining an app that can change the world, create a business, or both, as well as writing its basic structure and business model. Out of this challenge came the “Change Your Community” (CYC) App. After accepting their first place award, the trio is now working with others who also participated in the Hackathon to develop the app.

All three students learned basic computer science skills in high school, where they participated in Microsoft YouthSpark’s TEALS program. TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) is a grassroots program that recruits, trains, mentors, and places high tech professionals from across the country who are passionate about computer science education into high school classes. They act as volunteer teachers in a team-teaching model when the school district is unable to meet their students’ computer science (CS) needs on its own.

Read more about the My Brother’s Keeper Hackthon here: http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/article/20141204/NEWS/141208398/#sthash.5nq9sKPO.dpuf

Learn more about TEALS: www. http://www.tealsk12.org/

TEALS is part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our commitment to empower 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Merging multiple IT services into one

One of the things I love most about Boston is its commitment to helping others; our city is home to a number of non-profit and community improvement organizations that work locally, nationally and globally. While we often focus on the non-profit nature of these organizations, it’s easy to overlook that these groups operate like a business, just as any for-profit company. And that means they face the same business and IT challenges as any other company, often with the added layer of lower operating budgets and increased scrutiny over spending that isn’t directly related to their non-profit mission. One of these challenges involves integrating different IT environments into one platform following acquisitions.

Merging_multiple_IT_services_into_one copyFHI 360, a non-profit human development organization with an office in Watertown and operating in more than 60 countries, faced this exact challenge when an acquisition left it with two different productivity services – one cloud-based, one on-premise. Like many businesses in today’s global economy, FHI 360 was looking to improve collaboration among multinational project groups and increase productivity whether in the office or the field. To solve these needs, its IT department sought a single cloud-based productivity suite for all of its 4,300 employees.

When your own business is looking to merge divergent IT systems to one platform it’s important to take into account all the various environments and methods your employees work, to guarantee success and reduce worker frustration. FHI 360 did this by activating employee focus groups, which helped compile a list of 150 requirements across email, instant messaging, web conferencing and document collaboration. Defining these parameters early on allows IT decision makers to objectively evaluate each potential system. Additionally, a unifying platform will meet the various security and flexibility needs of your IT department without unnecessary complexity.

For its migration, FHI 360 deployed Microsoft Office 365, which offered the feature-rich productivity tools it was looking for, with the cost savings and flexibility of the cloud. Additionally, FHI 360 was able to utilize a local Microsoft partner, who provided advanced tools and support to simplify the migration process, and engaged with a Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace partner to develop a global instructor-led training for employees. All while reducing its IT costs and improving productivity, important factors for any business – non-profit and for-profit.

Visit Microsoft’s Office 365 for Business page to see how our cloud productivity suite can help you improve productivity and then use Pinpoint to find a local Microsoft partner who can help you streamline your operations under a single system.

Looking Back on Computer Science Education Week 2014

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Computer Science Education Week in Massachusetts this year just blew me away. More than 1000 events, thousands of kids doing the #HourOfCodeMA, from Somerville to Revere to Eastie, so many school districts getting involved—all to further awareness of the vitality of computer science education in schools.

The amount of support and the excitement of the kids as they coded—as they created technology—was incomparably inspiring and motivating. For me as a STEM advocate at Microsoft, it’s a reminder for why I do what I do. And a reminder to keep this movement growing.

We put together a Twitter recap of the week below:

On Friday, December 5, we had a special visitor to kick off Computer Science Education Week at Microsoft New England: Congressman Joe Kennedy. And he didn’t just stand for a photo opp — he actually did the first #HourOfCode in Massachusetts with our own Eric Jewart, an Office 365 Engineer and volunteer for our YouthSpark TEALS Program. Kennedy admitted he had taken CS classes in college, but playing Plants vs. Zombies by coding was something totally different for him: “Even though I took a couple computer science classes in college, those courses were nothing like what I experienced during my visit. The Hour of Code is fun, interactive, and most importantly, it’s teaching students how computer science is evolving while providing the skills necessary for the modern workplace.” Read his recap here.

Here’s a close-up of the official #CSEdWeek proclamation by Governor Deval Patrick, which began it’s journey here at Microsoft New England!

Monday got off to a great start when we checked the hourofcode.org site and saw that Massachusetts had surpassed 1000 #HourOfCode events!

Tuesday was a jam-packed day! We started with Mayor Marty Walsh and the MassTLC Ed Foundation, doing the #HourOfCode at Josiah Quincy Elementary.

At the same time, Cambridge Public Schools ran an Hour of Code with Mayor David Maher, the Klotech Project and Lesley University’s Kreg Hanning.

Wednesday was all about Somerville. Thanks to Mayor Curtatone, Shawn Szturma of Pegasystems and a parent in Somerville, every student in Somerville did an hour of code last week! Shawn worked with the Superintendent’s office and the Mayor’s office to coordinate all the volunteers to support CS Ed Week. Heather Carey from the MassTLC Ed Foundation even snapped an awesome photo of me teaching kids how to code!

On Thursday of #CSEdWeek, we headed to Revere to present Code.org’s grant for hosting the #HourOfCodeMA and furthering computer science education. Mayor Dan Rizzo and Paul Dakin, Superintendent of Revere Public Schools, joined us and the MassTLC Ed Foundation for the #CSEdWeek assembly.

The most important thing we need to remember is that computer science education does not end with #CSEdWeek. We must continue to strive to make this a part of every curriculum, in elementary, middle and high schools. In Massachusetts right now, there is one graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in IT/CS to every 17 jobs open in IT/CS. We need to keep working for the future of our children.

So how can you help?

Teachers – Take advantage of local professional development available through MassCAN.

Parents – Reach out to your local schools and policy makers and encourage inclusion of computer science curriculum. Explore after school, vacation and summer camp CS offerings listed on the MassTLC Education Foundation website (http://www.masstlcef.org).

Students – Try more hands-on opportunities at local organizations such as CoderDojo or other extracurricular programs that can be found at the MassTLC Education Foundation website (http://www.masstlcef.org).

Keep on coding!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

CS Series: An Hour of Code Can Inspire a Lifetime of Creativity

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Editor’s note: On Friday, December 5, 2014, Microsoft was honored to welcome Congressman Kennedy to Microsoft New England’s NERD Center in Cambridge. He interacted with our engineers and researchers, saw firsthand the work being done by Microsoft in New England, and participated in the Hour of Code. It was the perfect kick off to Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8-14) and we thank him for visiting our office. – Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager, Microsoft New England.

When I was appointed Honorary Co-Chair of the Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Council, I promised to build off of the success in our state and to find innovative ways to further promote STEM across Massachusetts and the entire country. Last week, I had a unique opportunity to experience a creative technology firsthand by participating in the Hour of Code during a visit to Microsoft’s NERD Center in Cambridge.

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Office365 Developer and Microsoft YouthSpark TEALS teacher Eric Jewart walking Congressman Kennedy through Plants vs. Zombies Hour of Code activity.

Throughout Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8-14), Microsoft partnered with Code.org on its grassroots campaign goal to reach 100 million students globally with the Hour of Code, a program that provides a hands-on introduction to computer science. With the patient help of Eric Jewart, a Microsoft engineer and volunteer teacher in the TEALS program, I completed the Zombie tutorial.

Even though I took a couple computer science classes in college, those courses were nothing like what I experienced during my visit. The Hour of Code is fun, interactive, and most importantly, it’s teaching students how computer science is evolving while providing the skills necessary for the modern workplace.

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Congressman Kennedy with Microsoft’s Eric Jewart and Aimee Sprung, holding Governor Deval Patrick’s CS Ed Week Proclamation.

This is especially true in Massachusetts, where our state has high demand for jobs in research and development as well as software publishing. And these are high-paying jobs. According to TechAmerica Foundation’s Cyberstates report, in 2012 high tech workers in our state earned an average salary of $116,000, the second highest tech wage in the U.S. and 95 percent more than the average private sector wage in Massachusetts. Now more than ever, our Commonwealth needs workers with skills in computer science.

Despite this need and our success in Massachusetts, just over one percent of AP students took the AP computer science exam in 2014 – a trend that can be reversed by incorporating and utilizing computer science in our high school curriculums. We must do all that we can to engage students and encourage policymakers to invest in education.

Microsoft understands this as well, with efforts year-round to further computer science. For example, the TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) program where Eric volunteers is a grassroots program through Microsoft YouthSpark that recruits, trains, and places tech professionals into high school classes as teachers.

My visit to the NERD Center showed me three interesting things: Massachusetts companies are searching for qualified technology talent; Microsoft is building tools for predictive analytics and conversational intent right here in our state; and the Hour of Code can even make a politician feel like a computer scientist!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

Multiple Screens, Multiple Opportunities

When Microsoft first started, Bill Gates had a vision, “a computer on every desk and in every home.” Today, we’re no longer bound by the desk, or even a single machine. You can now choose between smartphones, tablets, laptops, or the trusty desktop – and even televisions and cars are becoming connected devices. To remain competitive, businesses are faced with addressing this duopoly of enabling work across devices, while building engaging format-agnostic content for customers.

With 60 institutions of higher education in the metropolitan area, Boston may be one of the best cities in the world to showcase the potential for businesses from today’s multi-screen society. Schools including MIT, Harvard, and Boston University, make high-technology research and development a bit of a regional specialty. And local businesses often benefit from this, serving as real world labs to develop, test and refine new technologies.

Multiple Screens, Multiple OpportunitiesTake for example medicine, one of our area’s proudest industries. Today, emergency responders are able to upload images, vitals and critical health information from the field via tablets to ER doctors, enabling them to prepare before the patient has even arrived at the hospital. Similarly, mounted TV screens can serve as a tracker for lab work ordered by doctors, linking directly to a cloud-based system, which gets real-time updates from technicians, allowing nurses to better manage the status of each patient. Even patients benefit from a connected system, using mobile applications to access medical records, manage health conditions and share real-time updates with their doctors.

All of these features are enabled through the use of multiple platforms, device types and operators working together in harmony. This is the future that exists not only for healthcare, but also for manufacturing, business operations, finance, and industries of every shape, size and type. We understand the potential of technology and have committed ourselves to building an ecosystem that is not limited by screen size, operating system, or audience. We’ve released Universal Apps, which sync across smartphones and PCs, and eventually Xbox, as well as our new Enterprise Mobility Suite, a comprehensive solution designed to help IT professionals manage differing devices and environments from one simple suite of tools.

Facing this new multi-screen environment head-on will enable businesses to better target consumers and leverage worker productivity from anywhere, in any situation; and we are dedicated to bringing the best possible solutions to market in the Boston area. Stay tuned for future posts on the multi-screen environment, but in the meantime, see how the Microsoft Cloud is helping businesses prepare for tomorrow’s technological potential.

3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week at Microsoft New England

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Photo from “Kids Learn to Code” with CoderDojo this past weekend!

With winter here and temps dropping, get inside for some awesome events! Here are three not to miss this week Microsoft New England:

tech-in-motion1) Fireside Chat with HubSpot
Monday, December 15, 2014, 6:00pm – 8:30pm
Twitter: @HubSpot @Tech_in_Motion

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? So what better way to celebrate the holidays than by joining Tech in Motion: Boston. We are hosting our first “Fireside Chat” featuring HubSpot! Get out of that chilly winter weather and join us to warm up by the “fire” for great conversation and networking! Vice Presidents, Eric Richard and Brad Coffey, will be discussing the company’s success story, life on the product team, and how they recruit top talent. Stephanie Viccari of MeYou Health, voted the “Best Startup To Work For in 2014” by the Boston Globe, will be moderating the discussion.

 

altvr2) Boston VR Meetup featuring AltspaceVR
Tuesday, December 16, 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Twitter: @AltspaceVR

Come and experience the future of social virtual reality and collaborative development! Bruce Wooden from AltspaceVR will present and demonstrate their new social platform currently under development. You can find AltspaceVR at http://altvr.com/.

 

coderdojo3) Kids Learn to Code (CoderDojo)
Saturday, December 20, 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Twitter: @CoderDojoCRiver

Parents bring your kids (7-17) and come learn to code. For Free.

We’ll be covering:
Stream 1 Introduction: HTML/CSS and Javascript
Stream 2 Games with Python:  We’ll be diving into Python

For Stream 1 most sessions require no prior experience  (for either kids or parents).

Stream 2 is for kids who have completed Stream 1 or have experience coding in Scratch or some other language (Javascript, C++, Java, Ruby, Python etc.)

Please be sure to bring a laptop. If you need a laptop please let us know in advance: somerville.us@coderdojo.com.

 

CS Teacher Series: What Teaching CS Means to Me By Kelly Powers

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National Computer Science Education Week is this week and we will be participating in a number of events in the area. We are also proud to feature local computer science teachers as a guest bloggers right here on the Microsoft New England blog. Each of these teachers inspired with their creative and thoughtful commitment to education. ~Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager – Microsoft New England.

Teaching Computer Science to my students has provided a classroom setting for the students that is vibrant, engaging, and different than most classrooms that they have experienced. In our Computer Science classroom students are expected to create, think outside the box, test their ideas, collaborate and share their solutions with their peers. Computer Science has brought smiles, sighs of JOY, whispered exclamations of “Yes!”, cheers and sometimes victory dances.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to:

1.) Work mostly with students in grades six through twelve,

2.) Deliver a pure Computer Science curriculum that is both engaging and develops student’s thinking and problem solving skills,

3.) Work with a strong team of passionate Computer Science teachers who have been able to engage their students and demonstrate to their students how the student’s explorations in Computer Science will benefit them in their future field of study that they choose to pursue in college and career.

By exposing students to how the use and application of algorithms impacts society in all fields, students are able to see the relevance and value of their experiences in the computer science classroom. Students see how the creative, collaborative and problem solving experience prepares them for all fields. Computer Science exposure has given our students confidence and opportunities to pair program, deliver elevator pitches and develop digital portfolios to explain their creations. And finally, students exposed to Computer Science have had the opportunity to explore systems and hardware in more depth, including developing apps that interface with robots and interacting with features of the smartphone that challenge them to create more complex apps.

TeenLeadersI chose to teach Computer Science because I love solving problems and believe that I can help students apply what they learn in the Computer Science classroom to their daily lives. Computer Science must become accessible to all students particularly females and under-represented minorities. In May 2014, I joined an initiative titled MassCAN, a project focused on developing teachers to succeed at introducing Computer Science to all grades in K-12, and to provide access and an incredible education in Computing to all students.

Kelly Powers recently left the classroom after teaching Computer Science for 15 years to join the Education Development Center’s MassCAN team as Director of CS Teacher Leadership. She is leading a statewide effort with support of public and private funding to provide Computer Science professional development to teachers in grades K-12 at no cost to the district. Prior to this appointment, Kelly was recognized as the Raytheon Patriots Place 2013 STEM Teacher of the Year Award and received the 2012 Massachusetts Technology Leadership award for inspiring and educating both teachers and students. Kelly is the advisor to the CS Sparks teen leadership group and co-founded the Greater Boston Computer Science Teachers Chapter. Districts seeking information to introduce Computer Science in K-12 are encouraged to set up a time to meet her.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

CS Teacher Series: Computer Science in East Boston By Scott Foster

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National Computer Science Education Week is this week and we will be participating in a number of events in the area. We are also proud to feature local computer science teachers as a guest bloggers right here on the Microsoft New England blog. Each of these teachers inspired with their creative and thoughtful commitment to education. ~Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager – Microsoft New England.

Computer Science at East Boston High was born in a math class—not an AP or honors class, but rather a “last-chance senior” math class; for students facing the prospect of not graduating unless they could get a math credit—any math credit. Many students who find themselves in this situation are in it due to poor attendance, lack of interest in certain subjects or school in general, or some constellation of challenges that makes success at school difficult.

Most of my students had failed a couple years of math along the way to their senior year—but there was also an exceptional diversity of ability and (most especially) interest. So with abilities all over the map (the student who had failed every class in ninth grade but had gotten As in every math class since; the student who had failed every math class, but only math classes; students who struggled with school in general; and various other combinations of strengths and weaknesses), and interest levels ranging from high to non-existent, I made the decision to introduce programming to these students.

The effect on interest was immediate and electric—this was something truly new for the students and it did not feel abstract or pointless. Feedback was immediate, the process was frustrating, but success was extremely rewarding. The syntax of Python made it easy to get started, and even the least motivated students were won over when they first double-clicked a desktop icon launching a program they had written! Programming is also an excellent tool for instructional differentiation—programming assignments can be adjusted to measure or develop particular abilities of the programmer. Students were able to design and code simple encryption programs, games, quizzes, Punnet square generators, mazes, etc. (One of my students encrypted her final paper— I had to crack the code before grading it! She graduated and has joined the Navy, where she works… in encryption.)

The class was a success, word spread, and students began to request the class—even students whose graduation was not at risk. Word also spread to the administration.

Our department head was not angry that a math class had been hijacked by computer science curriculum (CSC), rather he (a CSC teacher himself) felt that we should try to grow a proper computer science program and that has been our project for the last three or four years.

Presently computer science is very much on the radar at Eastie High. Most students know we offer it and interest is growing—from its beginnings described above, passed the 10 AP CSC students in our initial AP class, to today with 5 sections of intro to CSC and a healthy AP program. Additionally, at the end of this year we will have over 250 students in the building with some experience in computer programming which may allow us to offer other courses such as game and app design.

Scott Foster is a Computer Science teacher at East Boston High School.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.