For my first WPC in 2013, I had one goal: find out who – if anyone – at Microsoft cared about my business. When I arrived in Houston, I was so focused that I didn’t even stop to check into the hotel, I just took my bags straight to the Sunday night event. I told the Microsoft representative at the door what I was looking for, and her response was, “You’re in luck. I care.” As it turns out, lots of people cared. I had an amazing WPC, and I came back for 2014.  In fact, I won’t miss another one…
I made many great connections with Microsoft execs at that WPC, including one in particular that led to a great opportunity. A few months ago, Microsoft called on my company to develop an app for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Microsoft is a huge sponsor of the event, and they wanted an app that would appeal to Spelling Bee supporters: spellers, kids 8 – 12 years old, and Spelling Bee administrators, usually teachers and parents. It isn’t every day that you get a chance to modernize something as established in many kid’s lives as a spelling bee, so this fun request was a huge opportunity for us and a challenge that LCG Technologies was ready and eager to tackle.
We were tasked with building our “Spelling Bees” app on the Windows 8 platform, primarily for use on the Microsoft Surface. I say “tasked,” but I really mean “very excited” because the touch-enabled Surface is the perfect device on which to build something meant to be fun for kids to use and also functional for administrators. Also, the voice function in Windows 8 was critical to making the Spelling Bees app work in the way we wanted: It can recognize a word and say it aloud to the student, so spellers can learn and play independently. Plus Windows 8 is a natural fit for students already familiar with so many Microsoft products in their homes and classrooms.
The app that resulted is almost two apps in one; there are two different “modes” or ways you can use it. The first lets teachers and parents easily conduct their own spelling bees. Using the app, they upload their own word list, enter the names of the kids competing, and keep a running leaderboard of who’s in and who’s out. In this mode, the app will both show the word to the administrator and say it aloud for the speller. The administrator checks that the speller has spelled the word correctly, then hits “correct” or “incorrect.”
The app also has a mode that lets kids and other spellers practice and test their skills on their own. In the self-administration mode, spellers choose a mission and then correctly spell the words they hear to reveal parts of a picture. Once the picture is revealed, they guess at the location – a fun way to develop spelling skills and learn a little geography at the same time.
We’re excited about this solution because the flexibility of Windows 8 and the potential integration with Azure means that we can quickly scale the app. Although Spelling Bees is targeted to a pretty specific audience, we see a lot of other potential applications, thanks to the voice and touch features…maybe our Spelling Bees (Bud and Bea) will be teaching Spanish to English class!
One of the best parts of this project, however, was when Microsoft execs presented each of the 281 competitors at the Scripps National Spelling Bee with their very own Surface, pre-loaded with the Spelling Bees app. The kids were thrilled with their Surfaces, and thrilled with Microsoft’s message of, “We see our future in you.” I’ve always said that partners represent some of the very best parts of Microsoft, and supporting Microsoft in supporting kids and education is about as good as it gets.
Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee
Spelling Bees is fun, free, and available for download from the Windows store.​