Friday, 29 January 2016

MIEExpert Spotlight #3: Keshma Patel - Project-based learning, 1:1 technology, student websites and Minecraft!

This is the third post in the series "MIEExpert Spotlight for South Africa". The tab with all the posts can be found at

Keshma Patel, a Grade 6 teacher at Micklefield Primary School for girls in Cape Town and a 2016 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert,  believes that: as a teacher your learning should never end. Education is ever changing. You never have a dull moment. There are always new goals to set, new ideas to explore and different ways to inspire young minds.” 

Keshma’s amazing Grade 6 classroom!
Keshma uses 1:1 technology, project-based learning and websites in her classroom at Micklefield Primary School. She is a keen user of Microsoft applications.

Micklefield Primary is a small, private, girls' primary school situated in the heart of Rondebosch in Cape Town. This is no ordinary school but rather one that is alive with ideas and possibilities – and a school that is making great strides in showing a focus on technology integration. The Intermediate Phase teachers are encouraged to use the blended learning approach in their classrooms.

When Keshma joined the staff in 2015 she immediately encouraged her class to bring their own computer devices to school and she set up a 1:1 blended learning program. She says “After completing my first big blended learning project with my class, I was hooked. It amazed me to see how much information the girls in my class retained and how easy it was to integrate all learning levels and styles." Her class keeps evidence of their individual learning on their own individual websites they have created. Keshma keeps her class and parents informed via her website. You can visit Keshma’s class website called ‘Mrs Patel’s Classroom’ at

Keshma’s use of Microsoft applications
A glance at Keshma’s Twitter account @KeshmaPatel shows her innovation in using Microsoft applications in her classroom.  To summarise Keshma 's key technology, it would include Office 2013,  Skype in the classroom, Office Mix, Sway and Minecraft. All these (apart from Minecraft) are available free, with tutorials and lessons available from the Microsoft Educator Community.   

Keshma’s use of Minecraft in the classroom

What is Minecraft
At the end of last year Keshma decided to explore using Minecraft in her class. Minecraft is an open world game that was purchased by Microsoft in 2014. It promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. It’s enjoyed by a worldwide community of over 100 million players who constantly inspire others with their creations. Microsoft has announced that the Minecraft: Education Edition will soon be released. 

How Keshma got started
Keshma felt that she wanted to use the world’s most popular game as a tool for learning.  She says, Minecraft was something that was being consistently talked about at break times and whenever the girls had a free moment in class. After having endless conversations with my class about what they enjoyed about it, hearing about Minecraft at various workshops and reading posts that were being shared among the MIEExperts, I decided to give it ago…I have never looked back!  I was lucky that most of the girls had already purchased the game. There is a cost involved in order to download Minecraft. You can go to and follow the links from there. I paired up learners that had the game with those that did not and they completed tasks in this manner. Eventually as the interest grew, I found that the rest of the class had purchased Minecraft! I had to purchase Minecraft as well, and on occasion direct the girls using my personal computer and using my Smart Board." 

Using Minecraft to encourage critical thinking
"I began the first Minecraft lesson by allowing the girls to play. I grouped my class into those that were experts with girls that had not played the game before. They spent the first lesson teaching each other and me. Once we got the hang of it, I started introducing specific themes such as Area and Perimeter, odd and even numbers and square roots. I allowed the girls to direct my teaching and I soon started finding more and more that I could link Minecraft with normal school activities.  You can use it to introduce a topic, reinforce concepts that you are teaching or to develop certain skills. This week, we are re-creating a village from the Renaissance. This sort of activity is great as the girls have to research the architecture and the way of living."

Keshma noted that, “The girls love the fact that they are playing a game while learning various concepts. It is a real example of 21st century learning. Using a game like Minecraft is an out of the box way of cementing abstract concepts which really does deepen the learners' thinking skills.”

How to motivate other teachers to use Minecraft
Keshma is keen to motivate others to start using Minecraft in the classroom. “Minecraft has become my new hobby!” She is a teacher that likes to share what she knows with others as well as learn from others. She helps other teachers on the staff develop their blended learning projects through various staff developments. When asked how she would motivate her peers to start using Minecraft she said, “I think showing them what they could achieve by using Minecraft in their classroom would be the first step. I would do this by encouraging my peers to visit my classroom when I am using Minecraft in a lesson. Another way would be to encourage them to listen to what the learners in their class are interested in (technology and gaming-wise). They should not disregard these and instead try and incorporate them into their teaching. To not be afraid to let your learners teach you a thing or two is important.”

Keshma’s application entry for the 2016 Microsoft MIEExpert program
It is always interesting to see the entries the MIEExpert teachers submitted as part of their application to be considered for the program. Here is Keshma's:

Keshma and the wider community of teachers
On a wider scale Keshma has created a termly meeting of twelve or more Grade 6 teachers from other schools in the Rondebosch area. At the next meeting on they will be sharing different ways of incorporating technology in their classrooms.   There will be a speaker at this meeting and it is open to other interested teachers. The date is 25 February, 3-4:30pm at Micklefield School.  Come along if you'd like to - just phone Micklefield to let them know!

Keshma is currently completing her Masters’ degree at UCT on the topic of how the use of technology develops critical thinking and we wish her well in that.

Get involved in the Microsoft MIEE program in 2016
If you are a teacher who likes to be innovative in the classroom, think about entering Microsoft's Innovative Teacher MIEExpert program in 2017 when applications reopen later in the year. You can learn more about the program at this link:  It could lead to big things!

Great Google in Education posts this week #42

After looking through all the Google posts that were shared to various subscriptions recently, these are 18+ that look useful for teachers.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Video-making opportunities with Next Vista - why not get your students to enter?

Next Vista for Learning ( is a wonderful video sharing site directed at teachers and students. Videos on Next Vista are made by teachers and students for teachers and students. Throughout the school year Next Vista hosts video creation contests for students and teachers. The owner of this site is Rushton Hurley, a marvelous motivational education speaker who has been out to South Africa frequently to speak at various conferences for teachers. I have heard him twice at Google for Education summits.

In January Rushton sent out a very inspiring newsletter with all sorts of opportunities, freebies and ideas for teachers. In this post I thought I would highlight two opportunities that teachers in South Africa might want to pursue with their students.

 Creativity sprouts!

creative sprout - main (300p)"Our spring contest, Creative Sprouts, is now in motion. As usual, the challenge for students and/or teachers is to creatively explain in 90 seconds or less something one might encounter in school. What your students make could help them better understand what you're teaching, help a peer figure out an important concept, or even allow your community to understand the good work being done at your school!

If you need any help getting this going, you'll find quite a bit of advice in these slides. Also make sure to look over the rules carefully, and if you wish, you can always email us ( with questions." (quoted from the newsletter)

Stories of service

"A number of teachers are getting their students geared up for our annual Service via Video project and contest. In it, we ask students to tell about people making their communities better, including researching charities (learning their stories, interviewing volunteers, and more) to create short videos (2 minutes or shorter) telling about these organizations.

The charities highlighted in the videos chosen as finalists earn $200 toward the featured organization (see the rules for details). We'd love to help you help the students help those organizations, so please get involved! We want every student to know what she or he can do to help others with a little digital media work.

Here are three examples from recent years to share and discuss:

foster_city_little_league_challengers_divsionFoster City Little League Challengers Division
from the 2014 Service via Video project

bc_spcaBC SPCA
from the 2015 Service via Video project

freestore_foodbankFreestore Foodbank
from the 2013 Service via Video project

Note that the rules for previous years (such as the length of the video) may be different than the rules for this year. You can find all the finalists videos for this project at this link." (quoted from the newsletter)

The Next Vista for Learning is definitely a site to bookmark and visit regularly. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Have you started your Grade 10-12 learners on the Microsoft Math portal yet?

How do you transform mathematics from the most disliked subject in school to every student’s favourite pastime, even beyond school walls? By introducing Microsoft Math! Microsoft Math is a free, online high school learning support service for Grade 10-12 students in South Africa and globally, provided by Microsoft. This is a 24-hour service that will benefit Grade 10-12 Maths learners enormously. It is available on any device and it provides:
  • thousands of Maths exercises 
  • examples of how to solve them 
  • theory and tests 
  • instant, interactive feedback 
This free application is not to be confused with Microsoft Mathematics! It is available on

There is a great video on the Internet called: "Now Mathematics is like My Friend”. Take a look.

Microsoft Math adds a social dimension to education, encouraging students to collaborate and compete with each other, and making the learning experience personal, engaging and exciting. Students can do thousands of math exercises, read theory, learn from examples, take tests, and more. Teachers can set assignments and homework for their class directly from the service, with the ability to better track students’ skill levels and to motivate them further.

Features of Microsoft Math
Let's revise the great features of Microsoft Math: 
  • Offers students 24/7 access to interactive maths learning
  • Game-like approach 
  • Offers social support
  • Provides an opportunity for students to collaborate with classmates and friends – or compete with them to see who can reach the top of the rankings. 
  • Helps teachers to improve their own skills and working methods. Teachers gain access to a rich exercise bank to ease class planning. The interactive system provides them clearer understanding of their students’ skills – and a new channel to communicate with and motivate them.
  • Can be undertaken on any digital device

Join the Microsoft Educator Community

Why not join the Microsoft Educator Community (free) and connect and collaborate around the world and gain easy access to lessons created by educators for educators: There are so many useful lessons on the Community and there are probably numerous Maths lessons. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Use Microsoft Word in a fun way with younger students

Submitted by Fiona Beal
Often, after a holiday break, teachers want to get their students writing about their holiday. A really fun way to do this is to get them to write their report back in Microsoft Word using a selected template.

I discovered a great template for this in the fabulous Oakdome site.The template is in the form of a cell phone! I tried this out on a Grade 4 class and they loved the experience!

The writing task

"Describe, in around 200 words or less, one or two events from your summer holiday. You'll do this as though it is a phone message, so although your report back has a beginning, a middle and an end you won't use paragraphs. Add an image related to your story."

We had a short oral session first about the holiday break and then we went to our computers to write in the Microsoft Word template. Two examples of the writing can be seen below.

It would be great if one could also insert  a voice recording of the learner reading their work into the document. I looked around Word 2013 but didn't see any way one do this. 

Word processing is an essential tool for any individual in today’s digital age and offline activities like these are a great way to start with young learners.  For more lessons on how to use Microsoft in the classroom visit the Microsoft Educator Community  at:  and go to the Lessons page where you can search thousands of lesson plans created by educators for educators to help enhance teaching and learning. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Useful Microsoft in Education posts this week #36

The Internet is currently full of posts about using Microsoft products effectively in the classroom. Here are a number of them from this past week:

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Great Google posts this week #41

After looking through all the Google posts that were shared to various subscriptions recently, these are eleven that look useful for teachers. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

MIEExpert Spotlight #2: Brescia House School in Johannesburg sets a record with 16 teachers selected for the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program in 2016

This is the second post in the series "MIEExpert Spotlight for South Africa". The tab with all the posts can be found at

Brescia House School in Johannesburg is well known for its standards of excellence in education. It is a private Catholic school for girls that rates the use of technology as a high priority for all students at the school. The girls use different devices to suit the needs to the various age groups, for example iPads are used in the Foundation Phase; Windows 8 tablets are used in the Intermediate Phase and touch screen laptops are used in the High School.

Brescia House is also a Microsoft Showcase school.  As part of this program, the two principals from Brescia House School have had an opportunity to attend Global Microsoft in Education Forums. Benedikte Nott (Secondary School Headmistress) attended the Forum in Dubai and Ann Owgan (Primary School Headmistress) attended the Forum in Barcelona, Spain.  Both found the Microsoft in Education forums to be valuable professional development and networking events. The two principals aided by Lyneth Crighton who heads up ICT at Brescia have done a good job of upskilling the staff at the school.  So much so that this year a record number of 45 of their teachers applied for the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program (MIEE) in South Africa. No less than 16 of these teachers were successful.  The teachers in the MIEE program in 2016 are all vying for a place to attend the upcoming E2 Global Teacher Exchange in Budapest in March this year.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert teachers 
This  will be the first of three  posts featuring the Brescia House teachers who have earned the title of Microsoft Innovative Teacher Expert in 2016. In this post we will focus on five of the sixteen Brescia House teachers and display their winning entries. For the application one could submit a lesson or project using an online program such as YouTube, Microsoft Sway etc. 

1) Andrea Mitas
Andrea Mitas is the primary school music teacher. She submitted a lesson called ‘Andrea Mitas Music lesson on Peter and the Wolf. This is a music lesson on the instruments of the Symphony orchestra using Peter and the Wolf as the theme.

2) Ashley Roberts
Ashley Roberts, a Creative Arts and Music teacher at Brescia, submitted a Grade 8&9 Advert project video called  'Using software to create and present'.  The students used a range of software applications including PowerPoint, Audacity and Movie Maker  to create and then present a 30 second advert for a product around a theme of Roaring 20s (Grade 9) or Water (Grade 8).

3) Catherine Mullen
Catherine Mullen is a Grade 2 class teacher at Brescia House. She believes that technology is preparing learners for the ever-changing real world. She wants to encourage a mindset of life-long learning in her students. With all the resources available to her at school she is able to give her learners up to date information and they are able to discuss current affairs,  explore places they may never see and much more. Catherine  submitted a video called 'Mathematics Innovative Lesson'.

4) Charmaine Caine
Charmaine Caine is a Grade 4 teacher who is enjoying her quest to find new and innovative ways of engaging her girls in learning experiences. Her video, called Innovative Teaching, shows one of the themes she experimented with this year that empowered her girls to use ingenuity, creativity and technology.

5) Graham West

Graham West is a Grade 8 - 12 History teacher at Brescia House. He submitted a Grade 9 History project called 'Creating a Facebook page for a historic personality'. His focus on technology is using it to enhance learning in a blended way together with more traditional teaching methods.

Well done to these teachers for their very inspiring lessons. If you would like to find inspiring lessons from global teachers please join the new Microsoft Educator Community at:  and go to the Lessons page where you can search thousands of lesson plans created by educators for educators to help enhance teaching and learning. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Avatars #4: Use BeFunky for cartoon-like avatars created from photos

Submitted by Fiona Beal
This is the fourth in a series of posts on using avatars in the classroom. My students use avatars for various purposes such as uploading a profile picture to their Edmodo profile, Google classroom profile, Gmail profile, blog profile etc. In this series of posts we will look at these various avatar creation applications in more details. Previous posts can be accessed by clicking on the avatars tag on the blog here

Today we look at Be Funky. BeFunky is a picture-editor app for Web platforms and mobile devices. Best is - no registration is required Just take your picture, add some crazy effects, and share it online.  This avatar creator requires actual photos. Before the lesson starts make sure that you have taken a portrait photo of each student and that these are uploaded to a place where they can access them easily. 

Getting started with BeFunky

1. Open Be Funky
Be Funky can be accessed at
When students open BeFunky they’ll see the landing page that asks you to upload a photo. 

2. Upload a photo
You'll notice that you can upload from different places. In my case the photos were stored in a shared folder in Google Drive. 

3. Use Artsy to cartoonify your photos
You'll notice all sorts of icons at the side but the one I used with the class was the ARTSY one in the very left column which has a flower icon as shown in the diagram below. 

The ARTSY section gives so many great options.  My class oohed and aahed as they tried them out. Some are paid options but there is a lot of free stuff as well. 

4. Save your image
As you explore all the items you can easily save your choices. All you do is click on the Save icon and download to wherever you would like it. For my students I wanted the pictures saved in the same folder with their name and a number next to it. 

Examples of BeFunky images

The class had a lot of fun creating avatars in this lesson. Some of them told me they went home and showed their parents how to create avatars. 

YouTube tutorial on how to use BeFunky
This YouTube tutorial will take you through how to use all the different features of BeFunky.

Uses in the classroom

  • The main way that I use avatar creation in the younger classrooms is for teaching basic ICT skills. I usually don't use photos for this. 
  • With the older classes we create avatars to use on various online sites and applications that we use in class, for example: such as Gmail. Edmodo, Classroom etc. where one wants a profile picture to be more cartoonlike. 
Try BeFunky. I am sure you'll love using it!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Learning Tools for OneNote Customer Preview add-in launched making it easier to read and write...

Microsoft has recently launched the official Learning Tools for OneNote (Customer Preview) add-in. It can be downloaded from

The Learning Tools for OneNote add-in helps everyone improve their reading and writing skills, including gifted learners, students with learning differences or a combination of any of the broad range of unique student abilities. 
"Students spend so much energy decoding that they can't focus on content. This tool will help making learning more efficient."
(Joel Reese, teacher Sammamish High School)
Some of the top Dyslexia leaders in the US, Drs. Brock and Fernette Edie have recently posted a blog naming Learning Tools the first “top Dyslexia app of 2016”. They run the largest Dyslexia community in the US and wrote the book The Dyslexic Advantage. The potential to help people with Dyslexia is enormous.

Click on this image and watch the video about the new add-in found on the download page:

If you are are at the BETT conference in London this week you can see Learning Tools being demonstrated to teachers and school leaders from around the world.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A brief overview of the 'Get Trained' option in the new Microsoft Educator Community

In our previous post about the new Microsoft Educator Community entitled, 'Take some time to join the new Microsoft Educator Community today!' we spoke about how to join this great new community that Microsoft has developed. You'll find this community at: This new site is a central destination where you’ll have access to well over 1.5 million educators around the world plus more. Some of the things you'll be able to do on the Microsoft Educator Community are:

Let's go back to the landing page of the new community once you have signed in.  You'll notice six options in the image, so let's take a look at those. 

Select from:

  • Get trained
  • Find a lesson
  • Connect with others
  • Share your expertise
  • Earn badges
  • Join the discussion

Today we'll  start our exploration of this great site and  look at the Get Trained option.

Let's start with the 'Get Trained' option
This section aims to enable you to stay current with the right mix of student-focused technology, experiential learning, and virtual collaboration to help your students learn and grow. You'll see it includes three subsections namely Quick Tip videos, Courses and Learning Paths. 

1. Quick tip videos

There are 37 Quick Tip videos to help you with some technology that you are wanting to know more about using in your classroom. As the name suggests they are short videos of around 3 minutes that are easy to follow. The topics are extremely inviting.

2. Online courses

A look around the courses section shows that there are nine very inviting courses on offer at the moment, all free. They aim to help you find that immediate training you might need on a tool. They are beautifully set out and are easy to follow.

3. Learning Paths

Learning paths are a compilation of courses or resources that help guide a learner to develop a strong knowledge base for a product or a topic. These would be more intensive courses.
Currently there are five Learning Paths on offer as the image below indicates: 

a) MIE Trainer Academy: The Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Trainer Academy is designed for teacher trainers and those who are responsible for training educators on the integration of technology in the classroom. The goal is to provide trainers exposure to the many Microsoft technologies and resources that support student-centered learning based on authentic problems and projects while aligning to 21st Century Skills, NETS-S and Common Core Standards

b) Microsoft Education: The Microsoft in Education learning path is a set of introductory courses to get you started on our suite of Microsoft tools for teaching and learning

c) Teaching with Technology: The Teaching with Technology (TwT) curriculum is designed to help educators understand how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can enhance the teaching and learning experience and enable students to acquire 21st century skills. Among many benefits, Teaching with Technology is free, aligned with the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, and self-paced (log back on at any time to pick up where you left off).

d) 21st Century Learning Design: 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD) for Educators is a collection of 8 courses with 4-6 lessons in each course. This learning path provides teachers with clear and practical ways to develop 21st skills using digital technologies with their students. Through a collection of Office Mix Lessons, 21st Century Learning Design for Educators builds on the research methodology providing a collaborative, practice-based process to help educators transform how they design enriching learning activities for their students. The complete series of 8 courses consists of 20 hours of Office Mix Lessons, video and self-assessment materials. Educators have the opportunity to actively participate in the course by sharing their materials and by engaging in ongoing discussion as part of a community of learners.

e) Teaching with Technology Basics: Explore four of our most popular Teaching with Technology topics. You'll learn about:
  • ICT tools that support student assessment needs at different stages of learning.
  • Tips to use the internet more effectively to support learning.
  • Tools to enable collaboration.
  • Time saving productivity tips for you!
Why not head over to, join if you haven't yet joined and take a look around.  You'll be amazed.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Great Google posts this week #40

After looking through all the Google posts that were shared to various subscriptions recently, these are thirteen that look useful for teachers. 

Friday, 15 January 2016

Rate us (SchoolNet) on SchoolAdvisor and be in line to win a trip to Mauritius!

School Advisor says:

"SchoolNet is now listed on the SchoolAdvisor website. This is a new online platform that brings schools and suppliers together, by hosting an ever increasing base of school suppliers and the services that they offer, and allowing schools to search for, get quotes and rate suppliers directly. We believe that this platform will help you to find the best supplier or product for your needs, and ensure that you receive the best service - as suppliers are kept accountable by constant review and feedback by school decision makers.

"As part of their launch promotion, SchoolAdvisor is offering you the opportunity to win a weeklong vacation for two to the 4-star Le Mauricia Hotel in Mauritius - absolutely free. All you have to do is rate a supplier. We would love it if you could rate our company and services, as it is important to us to have feedback from our clients and to stay up to date with their needs. Every review counts as an entry, so please rate us and other suppliers you have worked with.

"We look forward to your feedback and comments! Click here, select 'review a company' and write your first review."

Useful Microsoft in Education posts this week #35

The Internet is currently full of posts about using Microsoft products effectively in the classroom. Here are a number of them from this past week that teachers will love:

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Take some time to join the new Microsoft Educator Community today!

Submitted by Fiona Beal
In around October 2015 Microsoft moved the Microsoft Educator Network to its new destination now called the Microsoft Educator Community. Have you perhaps visited the new site and joined?

What is the new site about? 
This new site is a central destination where you’ll have access to over 1.5 million educators around the world, a fresh selection of professional development courses and resources, thousands of inspiring lesson plans, and access to live lessons and virtual field trips. The new community site is a combined experience of the Microsoft Educator Network and Skype in the Classroom. Some additional changes with the new site are:
  • A more visual, clear, and friendly design based on educator feedback
  • Simple navigation to easily find useful information
  • Interactive training (ranging from basic to advanced) with more badges
  • Access to guest speakers, virtual field trips, and more educators globally
  • Ability to easily create, consume, and share lessons, discussions, and more
  • A single location to find information and resources on technology use in the classroom

If I belong to the old Network with I automatically have a profile on the new Community?
This post will answer that questions and help you get started by outlining a few steps that will help kick-start your engagement with the new educator community.

Step 1: Head over to the new Community 
Click on page will take you to the new Microsoft Educator Community homepage. You'll notice that there is no Sign Up option if you are new to the Community. There is only a Sign In option. Click on that one.

Step 2: Select a region
You will be asked to select a region (continent) and after that a country

Step 3: You will now be asked to sign in
There are quite a few options for signing in. You can select from Office 365, Microsoft (i.e. Skype, Facebook or Twitter.  If you are a previous member sign in with the same email that you used before.

Step 4: You will need to fill in your profile
Sign-up on the new site by creating a profile if you have never signed up before. Current Microsoft Educator Network members may be prompted to provide the necessary verification to pull your profile data over. I found a rather odd photo on my profile even though I was a previous member. 

Update your profile to depict your expertise and make it easier for other community members to find and connect with you. Some of your details will have been moved across but possibly not all. I found that only two of my badges have been moved across.  But on closer look I see the words 'Recover account' at the bottom of More About Me! That looks useful.

However after clicking on Recover Account I get taken to a page that says that if you are using a different email address you might want to recover your previous information. My email address is the same as it was! 

At this point update your profile and fill in any missing details.

Step 5: Decide where to start exploring
You'll see a number of options available on the site. We'll look into these options in the next post on the Microsoft Educator Community. 

Visit Microsoft’s educator community today!