Friday, 17 February 2017

MIEExpert Spotlight #22: Judi Francisco: Microsoft tools, blended learning and critical thinking

This is the 22nd post in the series "MIEExpert Spotlight" for South Africa. The tab with all the posts can be found at: http://bit.ly/1ZYy8Z7. Today we focus on Judi Francisco. Judi is the computer teacher at Micklefield School in Rondebosch in Cape Town. Micklefield is a little independent not-for-profit primary school for girls. Judi says, “I have many titles at school such as IT Co-ordinator, Blended Learning Head, Computer Teacher, Blended Learning Teacher…. but my favourite title is Chief Learner because in technology you never stop learning, adapting, creating and trying new exciting things!” Judi is bent on making a difference in education. “South Africa may be at the tip of Africa, but the children are also at the tip of innovation and creativity. How lucky they are! Albert Einstein said ‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.’ 

A Blended Learning approach at Micklefield Primary
In 2015 Judi introduced a full time BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program for the Grade 5, 6 and 7 girls at Micklefield School. The Grade 4 girls have selected dates when they bring in their devices. At the start of 2016, together with great support from her headmistress, Jeannette Welgemoed, Judi formalised blended learning by allocating time to it on their formal school timetable for the Intermediate phase. During the IT lessons the girls learn the skills need for the blended learning lessons, or they learn completely separate tools and skills. Judi says, “It was not hard to formalise blended learning for two reasons. One is that blended learning covers the work set out in the curriculum. The second is that the teachers can see that the same amount of work is covered, but to a much deeper level of level whilst incorporating critical thinking skills.”



Thinking skills in ICT lessons
Judi focuses on teach critical thinking skills in her ICT lessons. “Once I had researched more about how and why to incorporate critical thinking more regularly using Microsoft tools, I was convinced that I was on the right track. We are teaching 21 century children, so we need to teach them 21 century skills.” Critical thinking skills are spread across 6 levels, and generally teachers tend to focus on the 1st three too often: knowledge, comprehension and application. So Judi now includes the next 3 levels: analysis, synthesis and evaluation in her lessons. Critical thinking skills fit hand in glove with Bloom’s taxonomy and blended learning.


Microsoft Tools,  Blooms taxonomy and Blended Learning
Microsoft applications lend themselves very well to the six steps of Blooms to enhance critical thinking. Microsoft Word, MS Excel, MS Paint, MS PowerPoint with Office Mix and MS Sway are Judi’s favourites. This is because they allow for text, images, videos, animation and audio. “Using these I can set a task that requires almost any of the verbs found in critical thinking and Blooms.” For example, Judi completed a MS Word and MS Excel project with the Grade 4 class where they focused on critical thinking skills. The girls learnt the concept of metacognition (it even became one of their spelling words!) The class teacher needed the children to cover quite a few curriculum tasks such as understanding visual data, countries around the world, seas and oceans, creating and understanding graphs, converting visual data to text and visa versa. When they looked at the list of critical thinking verbs up on Judi’s board, they selected compare, contrast, prioritise and form an opinion. The girls created spreadsheets in Excel. These were based on places the girls had visited. They then converted these into bar, line and pie graphs. The girls had to format these graphs using colour, axis, patterns, titles and tables in order to show an understanding of them. These graphs were then copied into MS Word. Judi says, “It was here that the critical thinking skills came into play. They had to write a summary about each graph. They had to comment on the data as they saw it and find what was interesting about the data. They used the following critical thinking verbs to help them do this: compare, contrast, prioritise and predict.” 


Motivating colleagues to use Microsoft applications in blended learning tasks
As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Judi motivates her colleagues to use Microsoft applications for these blended learning tasks. “In doing these tasks I work very closely with each class teacher to develop the blended learning projects. Once we have worked out which part of the curriculum we are covering, we let our creative juices flow! This is where Microsoft tools come into play. The class teacher then gets to see how I link up the task to Microsoft tools. The teacher also get to actually learn to use the tools along with the children. By the end of the project they are more confident with using whichever Microsoft tools we covered. The teachers then happily uses the tools more regularly on their own or for other tasks in their classroom.



Conclusion
Judi enjoys using many of the different Microsoft tools in her iCT classroom. She says, “I love PowerPoint Office Mix! Who doesn’t like to see their face on their presentation! Using the inking tool is great for keeping the children focused on their message. The fact that there can be audio, presentation skills and text in the Office Mix really amps up the critical thinking skills. I love using Microsoft Sway. We also arrange exciting Mystery Skypes with classes around the world.” 


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