Monday, 14 May 2018

SchoolNet SA in the News

April 2018 was a busy media month for SchoolNet - and you may have seen us on TV or heard us talking about our Learning Gains Through Play project on the radio.

The impetus
The need to share important findings from research conducted over four years as part of the DG Murray Trust-funded study on Learning Gains through Play prompted SchoolNet South Africa to issue a press release in April 2018.

This project had shown that exposure to digital educational apps and Xbox Kinect games had significantly improved second language skill in the Foundation Phase. Learners from the 10 project schools had consistently outperformed learners at the 2 control schools in a range of literacies over the previous four years but the improvement in second language English acquisition among the isiZulu and isiXhosa-speaking learners was the most remarkable.

Where did we feature?

Within the week of the media release, several radio stations contacted SchoolNet for interviews about the findings. These included Cape Talk Radio, the 702, Turf Radio, Alex FM, SAfm and RSG. Both Omashani Naidoo and Janet Thomson fielded questions about the research from these radio stations.

Here are the links to some of the interviews and press items:
  • Janet was especially impressed by Azania Mosaka of 702, who was well informed, asked great questions that showed insight into relevant issues related to the project. Listen to the podcast here.
  • For the Afrikaans interview on RSG, Dr Jacqueline Bachelor, the Programme Manager of Initial Teacher Education and Senior Lecturer in mobile and blended learning at the University of Johannesburg, was interviewed. Listen to the podcast here.
  • Omashani was interviewed by Stephen Grootes on SAfm. The podcast can be heard here.
  • Two notable online publications featured the SchoolNet media release; Arthur Goldstuck’s Gadget piece can be viewed here and the IT online item appears here.
SchoolNet SA on Morning Live
On 30 April 2018 Omashani Naidoo was invited by SABC 3 TV to be interviewed by Pearl Shongwe on SABC 3's Morning Live show. Interview can be seen here. Questions centred around the positive research findings that digital learning could have such a profound impact on literacy at a time when the release of the PIRLS results had shown that 78% of Grade 4 learners had not been able to read for meaning. 

Interviewer and listener questions
Interviewers from the different media channels chose different angles to hone in on. Some of them preferred to talk generally about digital learning and what SchoolNet SA does. However, the possibility that exposure to digital apps and games could be the answer to improving South Africa’s reading crisis came up in most of the interviews. A number of the interviewers demonstrated that they had engaged with the detail in the press release and had considerable background knowledge to support their questions. 

SchoolNet SA was grateful for the exposure that our organisation gained from the various interviews. They showed that South Africans are definitely interested in the power of technology to address the reading crisis in South Africa as well as to create more engaging and powerful teaching opportunities. We hope that some of the interest generated by the interviews will lead to future projects where more teachers and learners benefit from projects similar to Learning Gains through Play. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Get involved in the - My World 360 Degree Global VR Project

Are you looking for a global project to get your learners doing something positive towards tacking the Sustainable Development Goals? 
Do you want to showcase your community and its challenges and solutions on a global stage?
Do you want your learners to make exciting media - but only have access to a Smartphone?

MY World 360° invites youth (ages 5-24) worldwide to create 360° media to share their perspectives and advance positive action toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aim of MY World 360° is to share the stories of the people behind the SDGs including those whose lives are most affected and those who are taking action to make their success a reality.

How can you get started?
Start by exploring the Sustainable Development Goals and how they are relevant to you and your community. Have conversations with people in your community to discover what issues are important to them. The MY World survey can be used as a tool to start the conversation and ask yourself and the people around you what stories need to be told.

What format should be used?
You’ll need to learn a bit about 360° media, a format that captures in every direction at once — up, down, and all around. To participate all you need is a Smartphone. Download a free 360° photo tool like the Google Street View app and get started. Check out these 360° media examples for ideas and inspiration.

What story should you and your learners tell?
Your story should relate to the SDGs and the ideas discussed with your community.

How do I share my work?
Share your 360° work on social media using the hashtags #MYWorld360 and #SDGs. You can also submit your media to MY World 360° by 5 June for July events and by 15 August for September events. 

Where can you get more information about MY World 360°?
Check out the website, FAQs and programme guide here and be sure to complete the online Educator interest form if you would like to get involved. We look forward to seeing some South African entries included in the showcase.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Using Kodu in the Classroom - Watch the Microsoft Virtual Academy and try the tool

Are you keen to try some basic coding in your classroom? Perhaps you have already done the Hour of Code with your learners, and now you are ready to move on to something a bit more challenging?

Why not give Kodu a try?

Kodu lets students create games on Windows computers using a simple visual programming language. Through making games, students also have opportunities to express themselves creatively, solve problems and tell stories.

If you are new to Kodu, check out the Microsoft Virtual Academy in which SchoolNet's Megan Rademeyer discusses Kodu basic's with TechTeachers Matthew Hains. In this session, Matthew gives some good tips for making this free tool work in the South African context and on pretty much any Windows computer that has connectivity. You can also find pointers in the Introduction to Kodu course on the Microsoft Educator Community.

Once you have got the basics down - think of a way of integrating Kodu into a cross-curricular project. There are some inspirational examples on the Kodu website including using Kodu in
  • Maths – for activities involving surface area, volume, working with data
  • Life Science – modeling the water cycle, water in the life of a cybersalmon
  • Science – a Mars Rover simulation, developing and testing theories
  • Language – using Kodu as a storytelling device

Please let us know how you have used Kodu with your learners. We would love to feature South African lesson ideas for other teachers to try.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Physical Computing in the Classroom - watch our Virtual Academy and give it a try

Physical computing involves interactive physical systems or devices that can be programmed through software. That sounds very high-tech - but basically it involves bringing coding to life by programming something that you can touch to do something.

For example, if you have a Microbit you can use a piece of tape to create into a fancy bracelet that flashes a message. Or if two people each have a Microbit - these can be programmed to make a symbol for either rock, paper or scissors so that a digital version of this classic game can be played as the Microbits are shaken.

Physical computing activities for learners have a range of benefits, including:
  • encouraging an holistic view of computer systems across hardware and software
  • encouraging creativity and personalisation of projects
  • promoting learning by doing, trial and error, collaboration
  • engaging the whole learner – mind and body

In our Physical Computing in the Classroom Microsoft Virtual Academy, SchoolNet SA's Megan Rademeyer discusses a range of physical computing ideas with Matthew Hains from TechTeachers.

One of the main points we discussed was how to make physical computing work in schools that don't have access to resources or a computer science teacher. Matthew showed us how you can still try physical computing without tools like Microbits or Adafruit, by going to the Makecode website and coding a virtual Microbit. There are a range of great activities to try that don't require any formal computer science training to follow.

Please check out the course on the Physical Computing for the Non-Computer Science Educator course on the Microsoft Educator Community for some more pointers on this topic. Be sure to send us some pictures of your learners trying out physical computing so that we can share your lesson ideas with other teachers.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Get your learners involved in an international collaborative project

Connecting with students from other countries can provide your learners with a rewarding opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and different backgrounds. Collaborating on a common project provides all participants with a common goal, that each group can contribute towards. Great projects provide all participants with opportunities to work towards addressing a global challenge, whilst bringing their own local knowledge and experiences to the task.

Our friends at iEarn empower teachers and students worldwide to use technology to collaborate on projects designed to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Listed below are some of the latest projects that you can join:

STICK Project

iEarn welcomes a new collaborative math project, the STICK Project - Measuring the Circumference of the Earth. This project will connect secondary school students and the main objective is to measure the perimeter of the Earth, in a similar way to that used by Eratosthenes more than 2,200 years ago. For this, each group of students and their teachers around the world will measure the height and shadow of a stick during the solar midday of autumn or September equinox. 

Global Youth Service Day

This April, Join iEARN Moldova and global project participants in the Global Youth Service Day project. The project aims to support a global culture of engaged children and youth committed to a lifetime of meaningful service, learning, and leadership. The Global Youth Service Project will help teachers and students partner with local, state, national, and international organizations committed to engaging children and youth as leaders through volunteering, community service, service-learning, national service, and voting/civic engagement.

Every Day is Earth Day

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd with the Every Day is Earth Day project! This year, classes are focusing on Ocean Pollution and Marine Waste Disposal. In the project, students write short essays or poems, take photos, create drawings, or make videos where they share their solutions to help protect the environment.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Integration of digital tools in KwaNdgenezi lessons

SchoolNet's Hlengiwe Mfeka recently ran a workshop on Using in Digital Resources in the Classroom with teachers from twelve KwaNdgenezi schools, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pinetown.

Following the workshop, Hlengiwe visited each of the schools involved to observe lessons and to provide some additional support to teachers. Described below are some of the lessons that Hlengiwe observed. These lessons are good examples of how digital tools and content can be incorporated into lessons, even where there are not many resources available.

Mr. Sithembiso Mbokazi used a popular movie staring Jackie Chan as part of an IsiZulu lesson. Whilst the movie was in English, he used the film as a way to reinforce the different elements of a story such as plot, character, theme and setting. Once the learners understood the process of creating a story they were tasked with creating their own stories that incorporated elements of storytelling they had discussed in relation to the film.

At Asiphephe Primary School Nosipho Bhengu introduced a life orientation lesson with a video on goal setting. After watching the video, which introduced the concept of SMART goals, the learners collaborated to list their own goals. Not only will they remember all about goal setting from this lesson, they are also sure to use technology to access more resources to support lessons in their other subjects.

At Wozamoyo High School the teachers set a task for an English lesson that involved learners doing a role play and peers taking a video. This video was then later edited so that it can be shown to others to raise awareness of appropriate cell phone use. The teachers at this school, Olga and Nana were not afraid to think out of the box to set a task that made use of the digital tools available.

At Ziphathele High School, Geography teacher Sbonga was making good use of the resources on the hard drive provided by the Rotary Club of Pinetown to support his Geography lesson. For a subject like Geography, concepts are easier to understand and recall if one is able to see the place, land-form or climatological phenomenon being described. Digital resources allow learners to explore a range of places virtually that they may not get to experience in real life.

We hope that the KwaNdgenezi teachers will continue to use the digital resources that they have been provided with, along as the skills they have acquired for integrating them into the classroom. With practice and experience it will become easier to integrate digital resources and to develop a wider range of engaging lessons.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Calling Grade 11 Girls with a passion for IT

For the past two years Brescia House School has hosted a dinner for grade 11 girls who are studying either Computer Applications Technology or IT, their teachers and women in the IT industry. These  dinners have provided a great opportunity for young woman with an interest in technology to network with professionals who have succeeded in the technology field.

This year, SchoolNet SA is proud to be associated with the CuriosITy dinner as well as the workshops which will be held in the afternoon before the dinner. These are taking place as follows:

CuriosITy Workshops

Date:    Wednesday 30 May 2018
Time:    3pm - 5pm
Venue:  Brescia House School Hall - 14 Slone street Bryanston

CuriosITy Dinner

Date:    Wednesday 30 may 2018
Time:    6pm - 9:30pm
Venue:  Bryanston Catholic Church Hall (adjacent to Brescia House School)

During the workshops, the girls and their teachers will learn more about Micro-bits, Robotics, Coding, Green Screen, Movie Making and more. The workshops will be followed by a three course dinner which will include two inspirational guest speakers. Changing seats between courses leads to the girls chatting to different professionals  about what they do, which tertiary courses they found to be the most useful, and how they balance the demands of work and family life and working in a male dominated industry.

If you are a high school technology teacher, please register for the workshop and dinner using this Quicket link. There is no cost for girls and teachers to attend the event however places are limited and registration is essential.

If you are a female professional in the IT industry - we appeal to you to buy a ticket to attend this event using this Quicket link. You will have the option of purchasing a ticket for yourself to attend the dinner (R350), sponsoring a girl to attend the dinner (R250) or covering the costs of 5 girls and yourself to attend the dinner (R1 250). Not only will your contribution help cover the costs of the event, your stories and example may just provide a young girl with the inspiration to #MakeWhatsNext.

See more about the CuriosITy dinner and workshops on the Brescia House School website.

Nozipho Mvubu - an exemplary Grade R teacher at Bhongo Primary

Ms Nozipho Mvubu is a new qualified teacher (ECD) teaching grade R at Bhongo Primary. She is passionate about her work, hardworking, calm and her heart is a hundred percent committed to what she does. She is creative, a critical thinker and organized – her classroom environment speaks for itself. The principal at Bhongo Primary highly commends Ms Mvubu’s positive attitude but mostly her humility. The principal mentioned how lucky she is to have Ms Mvubu as a teacher, noting that even parents prefer their children to enrol in her class having seen the impact on learner achievement under her care. "Give her any task, she’ll excel at it,” says the principal.

Ms Mvubu's exemplary teaching skills became evident when Ms Hlengiwe Mfeka visited her class as part of a professional development and support programme being rolled out by SchoolNet and funded by the Pinetown Rotary Club. Hlengiwe noticed that the lesson included all aspects of a great lesson:
• A pleasant class environment
• Learner discipline wrapped with love and care
• Free-spirited learners participating actively in all given tasks and with determination
• Learner-centred approach
• Learners comfortable working in teams and sharing (which is uncommon with young kids)
• Good use of digital tools, relevant and age appropriate apps
• Good teaching strategies which remained inclusive

The principal reported that after Ms Mvubu had attended the 'Using Digital Resources in the Classroom' professional development session she had given a moving presentation  to all her colleagues on the staff sharing some of what she had learnt. It had not ended there; Ms Mvubu began to use the knowledge and skills from the course - and has not looked back. She continues to develop herself by searching the internet, continuously referring to the training materials provided. She brings her family’s old and new cell phones to school to be used by her learners. She has created a WhatsApp group for her the parents of her learners’ so that she can communicate with them and share learners artifacts and activities.

It was impressive to see young children in grade R working confidently, efficiently and effectively with cell phones and a laptop and above all enjoying themselves yet learning! Well done to Ms Nozipho Mvubu.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

South Africa’s reading crisis – time for a digital and playful solution?

There is a solution to the Foundation Phase reading crisis that the education system in South Africa currently faces. The early introduction and integration of digital tools in the classroom can and has proven to improve literacy levels amongst children, a SchoolNet South Africa (SNSA) study has found.

The country’s reading crisis has once again come into the spotlight through the latest findings of the Progress In International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). It has revealed that many of country’s children are struggling to read; that as much as 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language.

While the research study of this project, called Learning Gains through Play (LGP), showed learning gains in all foundational literacies tracked, the most interesting findings were of gains in oral English language skills acquired subconsciously through play by second language learners.

The Methodology

Ten schools in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape each received a bank of learner tablets and an Xbox Kinect (including carefully selected apps and games) which, along with intensive teacher development and support, were integrated in teaching and learning activities in Grade R and Grade 1 classrooms. Learners were tracked over a four year period to assess their progress in foundational skills.

Data was compared with control school learners who were assessed and tracked in the same manner (but did not enjoy the benefits of any of the LGP project inputs). Results showed improvements in achievement in all five foundational literacies of gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills, numeracy, visual literacy and oral English communication skills.

This last literacy is of particular interest as the learning gains were substantial and furthermore, because the language of learning and teaching is a hotly debated topic in South Africa. With eleven official languages there is little consensus on which is more beneficial, for children to learn in their mother tongue or in the universal language of English.

This issue is particularly contentious in the first grades of Foundation Phase in South Africa. SchoolNet’s Learning Gains through Play project has shown that in the early grades, children can acquire English language skills “on their own” through engaging with learning games and apps that use English as the medium of instruction.

This acquisition of English is very different to the formal learning of a language with its structures and rules. Acquisition is a subconscious immersive method to understand and make meaning, similar to the way in which babies learn their mother tongue.

For the LGP children learning was mediated by their educators; it was not really learning “on their own” but learning driven by a need to make understanding of the games and apps in order to engage and entertain themselves with the digital tools that they found so exciting. One of the LGP findings was that learners’ curiosity was sufficiently enabled to trigger self-driven learning.

The theory of second language acquisition (SLA) was proposed by linguistic professor Stephen Krashen (1981) and according to Krashen and Terrell (1995), students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency.

“With the majority of learners in South Africa learning in their home language in Foundation Phase and then making an abrupt switch to learning in English from Grade 4 (and this coupled with the addition of three more subjects), providing tablets, Xboxes, apps and games in English for learners in the early grades is an effective strategy for preparing learners for success in the Intermediate Phase and beyond,” says SNSA’s Executive Director, Janet Thomson.

The worst hit from the reading crisis are poor and disadvantaged children, who make up 25% of the population who live in extreme poverty. An alarming fact is that learning deficiencies in the early grades accumulate and have a far greater detrimental impact in later grades and across all subjects including Mathematics.

Only the top 16% of Grade 3 Maths students are achieving at the Grade 3 level (Spaull & Kotze, 2015). Clearly the vast majority of South African learners are not meeting the curriculum requirements even at the very start of their journey through the schooling system.

In addition to the county’s poor reading culture, reading is also generally taught badly resulting in what the The Conversation has dubbed a “cognitive catastrophe”.  The publication argued recently that “failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society.” This essentially means that we are raising generations of cognitively stunted individuals who then become stuck in intergeneration poverty.

One of the reasons why the PIRLS Study tested 13 000 Grade 4 children is because it is in the Foundation Phase “that the base for all future learning is established, and if the rudiments of reading, writing and calculating are not firmly entrenched by the end of Grade 3, then both learning opportunities and the larger life chances of young citizens will be curtailed” (National Education, Evaluation and Development Unit, 2013).

For more information, please see the Executive Summary of Learning Gains Findings

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Register with a Microsoft account on the Microsoft Educator Community

Many South African teachers have joined the Microsoft Educator Community to complete online professional development courses, to be part of a global community of teachers, to participate in Skype in the Classroom activities and to share lesson plans and quick tip videos with teachers from around the world.

As of 12 March 2018 new users will only be able to join the Microsoft Educator Community using either a personal Microsoft account or an Office 365 account. According to Sonja Delafosse - Microsoft Senior Education Manager, "We’re phasing out accounts so we can optimize user experiences with Office 365 and Microsoft personal accounts".

Teachers who have already joined the Microsoft Educator Community using a Facebook, Skype or Twitter account need to change their login details to reflect either an Office 365 or Microsoft personal account by 8 May, 2018.

After 8 May 2018 Microsoft Educator Community users who are currently accessing their accounts through Facebook, Skype or Twitter email addresses will lose access to their account and badges, certifications and any published content will be permanently deleted. 

Don't lose the badges, certificates, points and connections you have worked so hard to achieve. Log in to the Microsoft Educator Community now to convert your login details to a Microsoft account. 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Youth can build digital skills - for free

Tshepho 1 Million is giving hope to young unemployed people in Gauteng by providing them with a way to access skills and learning opportunities to prepare for the world of work. Whilst only young people in Gauteng can sign up for the Tshepo 1 Million job placement programme, youth from anywhere in South Africa can access online training through 

#thintimillion is a cloud-based learner management system which Microsoft has made available to scale access to key digital skills training modules. Young people who have never used a computer will be trained on Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint and will be able to complete online tests and assessments. Young job seekers can access the training materials at libraries and training sites throughout Gauteng or they can complete the modules on their phones. 

The Thinti'Million Digital Literacy - Productivity Programme launch event took place at the Sebokeng Library on 4 April 2018. At the event Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi stressed that "youth need a hand up; not a hand out". Young people in attendance were already hard at work navigating through the modules and taking the online quizzes with many saying that they would be back to continue the course.

Teachers can encourage learners to complete the online courses so that they develop basic digital skills whilst still at school - ensuring that they are better prepared for tertiary studies or the workplace. As Microsoft SA says: "It is critical that we enable all citizens to effectively participate by building the necessary digital skills and bridging the divide. #thintimillion @Tshepo1Million"

Friday, 30 March 2018

KwaNdengazi Teachers being supported by Rotary Pinetown

In a previous blogpost we reported on teachers from 12 schools in KwaNdengezi who received professional development in using digital resources sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pinetown. These professional development workshops took place in February 2018 and were intended to assist teachers to effectively integrate the use of curriculum-aligned digital content into their lessons.

In March 2018, SchoolNet’s Hlengiwe Mfeka followed up with support visits to schools to see how teachers were integrating digital content across a range of subjects and phases and to provide on-the-spot support and just-in-time learning opportunities.

Hlengiwe’s school visits proved to be valuable; they contributed towards improving the teachers’ practical understanding of implementing and or integrating digital literacies in their lessons.  Hlengiwe encouraged them to continue along this journey.  For some of the teachers it was a daunting experience as they were embarking on digital learning strategies for the first time in their teaching experience.

There were cases where some of the teachers presented a traditional lesson with no integration of digital tools or resources. This happened for a variety of reasons.   It was also noted that some of the teachers used PowerPoint presentations confidently but with no fundamental change to their traditional telling method where learning is teacher-centred.

The few teachers who had not managed to apply the learnings from the professional development sessions gave clear indication of the gap that sometimes exists when the facilitator assumes everyone has understood the concept perfectly but when teachers return to their own environment they are unable to implement what was covered.  Sometimes other factors are responsible such as management resistance or lack of collegial support that can cause discouragement.  These follow-up visits therefore encouraged these teachers and afforded them the opportunity to work on any flaws which had surfaced.  On the flip side, it was a very pleasant surprise for Hlengiwe to discover how teachers who might have seemed reserved during the training session were the ones who were shining and excelling in their classrooms.

During each school visit, Hlengiwe met with the teacher before his or her lesson, observed the lesson taking place, and then spent time after the lesson to discuss reflections on the lesson.  Schools with management buy-in were clearly identifiable because the principals would know about the visits, would ask about the project and would show interest in the outcome of the lesson observation. Some teachers also remarked on how they were supported by their principal and the SMT and some of these positive stories were videoed to motivate other teachers who are participating in the project.   This project is destined to grow from strength simply because of the critical mass of teachers who are enthusiastic and committed.

Read more about some of the KwaNdengezi teachers lessons here as well as a profile on Nozipho Mvubu - an exemplary Grade R teacher.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

TechnoGranny uses Skype to create a Classroom in the Sky

This week, eleven South African teachers, are attending the E2 Education Exchange in Singapore. This prestigious conference brings together over 300 innovative teachers from around the world to share their best practices and to learn more about how to use Microsoft technologies in the Classroom.

Phuti Ragophala, a Microsoft Fellow and passionate advocate of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, was selected to present a session on how she uses Skype to break down the walls and bring the world into the classroom at E2. 

Phuti says: "After retiring from being a school principal at Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo I recognized a digital gap amongst youth and educators in my community. From my home I am able to access many schools nationally and internationally to share innovative ways of learning and teaching using free Microsoft resources like Skype".

Through leveraging the power of Skype, Phuti has been a guest speaker to a class in Texas; she has spoken to children at the KAKUMA refugee camp in Kenya; and she has presented at Microsoft events and webinars. Phuti has also used Skype to be part of global collaborative projects on climate action and supporting victims of sexual abuse. 

Phuti leverages Skype in the Classroom resources to provide opportunities for children in her area to travel virtually beyond the dusty streets of Limpopo. Phuti and her learners have been part of a collaborative project with Middle school Zweetle in Austria; they have taken a virtual field trip to Florida to study turtles; they have played the Mystery Skype game with a class in the Ukraine; and they have discussed water problems with another MIE Expert's class in Japan. 

Whilst Skype is a powerful tool to connect classrooms and teachers with friends in other countries, there is still power in face-to-face opportunities to meet people from other countries. At a previous Microsoft Global Forum, Phuti and USA teacher Julie Hembree shared stories about their respective schools. Julie was so touched by the lack of resources at Pula Madibogo that she organised book collections to be able to send reading materials to South Africa. She then listened to the Limpopo learners read to her via Skype and finally traveled to South Africa to meet them in person and to see Phuti's school first hand.

We are sure that Phuti and the other South African teachers who are attending E2 in Singapore are busy making teacher-friends from across the world. We look forward to hearing how the E2 delegates are going to leverage these friendships and shared love for using technology in the classroom to set up collaborative projects in the future. We are sure that whatever they do, Skype will play a role in ensuring that teachers from different countries will be able to stay in touch virtually after the conference. 

To learn more about Skype in the Classroom - and to get your class involved in Mystery Skypes, Virtual Field Trips and Skype-a-Thons join the Microsoft Educator Community.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Port Elizabeth Telkom Connected Schools Teachers show how they are using digital tools

In March 2018, SchoolNet SA's operations manager Omashani Naidoo visited two Port Elizabeth High Schools that are part of the Telkom Connected Schools project to see how they are using their digital resources and to provide some on-the-spot coaching and mentoring. Here is a round-up of some of the best practices that were observed where digital tools were being used to enhance teaching and learning.

At Ndzondelelo High School:

Ms Busi Hlongo, a Grade 8 Life Orientation teacher, was teaching a lesson on how media influences Sexual and Cultural Perspectives. The lesson was presented using the Smartboard and lesson plan prepared on PowerPoint.

Mr QweQwe a Grade 8 Maths teacher was teaching a lesson on algebraic expressions. He was comfortable using the Smartbook and Smart Notebook software, and learners who did not have textbooks were able to copy examples from the Smartboard on to paper.

Ms Magibisela, the grade 8 English teacher had downloaded an e-book on Narrative essays. Her lesson required learners to draw a Mindmap and to use the brainstorm strategy to plan the different aspects of what their essays. Even though learners did not have access to digital devices, there was a lot of interactivity between the teacher and learners and between the learners themselves.

Ms Nokwazi Nokufa the Consumer Studies and technology teacher worked with Omashani to find a way to do 3D drawings using a mix of Word, the grid and ruler when the Smartboard software in her classroom could not access the 3D measurement and shape tools. Omashani also helped Nofuka connect to the Sun International Digital Hospitality materials which will help her in teaching Consumer Studies.

Ms Nomakule Mahlaza the grade 8 Natural Science teacher proudly shared the YouTube videos that she has downloaded to help bring topics to life in her classroom. She told Omashani that she could stop any learner to ask them about topics she had completed including photosynthesis and respiration and the learners would be able to answer questions about them based on remembering the topics from the videos that they had watched.

At Khwezi Lomso:

Mr Dasi the Grade 8 Maths teacher is very ICT literate, and uses the Smartboard with ease. He says that he usually relies on the internet to complete online tests and assessments which are sourced from a joint project with the NMMU where curriculum resources have been developed for teachers in the Eastern Cape.

Ms Lantu was teaching Natural science and working through Micro-organisms. The teacher had a PowerPoint presentaion prepared with images and links to online resources. Omashani showed her how to download and save videos to make her lessons even more interactive. 

Ms Kawa the Geography teacher was using the Smartboard to teach her lesson on the rotation of the earth and the globe (latitude and longitude). The teacher had a lesson prepared, but went back to drawing on the screen alongside the Smartboard instead of using the lesson more creatively.

Mr Doyi was also teaching a social sciences (Geography) lesson on the globe and rotation of the earth, and had shared the same PowerPoint as Ms Kawa. This is indicative of sharing of resources which is great to see. Oh how we would love to see these Geography learners playing Mystery Skype in the future as a fun way of testing their understanding of geographical terms. That would really keep them engaged and would ensure that they remembered the parts of the globe!

Ms Mapikela was teaching Xhosa in the most exciting way. She downloaded a YouTube video about Umshato (Xhosa wedding) and the learners were alive in the class. They could all identify with the song and could also then interact when the teacher asked questions about the dress colours during different seasons. 

Ms Landiwe Mapapu taught a lesson in EMS about the National Budget and was able to show the breakdown of budget income and expenditure.

Ms Thembisa Ntlangiwini, the Technology teacher used the Smartboard and a prepared PowerPoint lesson to teach Structures. She used images of different structures so that learners could see the various structures in their everyday application.

We salute the teachers of Ndzondelelo High School and Khwezi Lomso who are doing their best to fully utilize the resources that their schools have been given. We know that as these teachers gain in confidence and learn from one another and their training sessions that they will be able to enhance their lessons even further.

Mr Nicholas Matshele - a principal who leads by example

Mr Matshele of NM Tsuene Secondary School is an exemplary principal who leads by example. He has been attending the SchoolNet SA Change Leadership course as part of the Telkom connected schools project.

In addition to learning some new skills as part of this program, Mr Matshele has got some great strategies of his own that help him to successfully lead his school. These include:

1. Accept criticism – accepting criticism is a sign that one is willing to learn and become better at what they do.

2. Sacrifice – A good leader leads by example. If the principal tells his staff to attend training on a Saturday then he too must be willing to attend training. Even if the focus of the training will be on teachers, the principal must attend to motivate his staff members. The same applies for early learner support lessons, the principal is supposed to encourage learners to attend morning classes by being there for them.

3. Be prepared to learn new things and be ahead were possible – A good leader learns and grows with his staff members and where possible he must learn more so that he can help those he is leading.

When we interviewed Mr Matshele, his passion for teachers and learners at his school was clearly evident. In knowing that change is inevitable Mr Matshele helps his staff accept change better by being supportive, leading by example and caring for his staff members.

Circumstances have also forced Matshele to learn digital skills and he acknowledges that teachers need to learn these skills, and share them with their learners, to be more efficient and to communicate more effectively. Matshele says that two years ago he could not write an e-mail however the changing society and the need to be a global citizen has prompted him to learn how to write and send e-mails. Communicating with parents has become easier using e-mails and WhatsApp as teachers are no longer dependant on learners passing messages on to thier parents. Learning how to use the different Office Applications, such as Excel, enable teachers to do calculations more quickly and without errors, when compared to calculating manually.

It takes some effort for schools to implement any new skills and this is why NM Tsuene teachers and school leaders make time for meetings to discuss changes that they need to implement at the school. These meetings are sometimes informal yet they are useful for teachers because this is where they learn from each other. Having ICT devices and service providers who are there to help teachers to build their skills helps rejuvenate their intended accomplishment of the school vision.

Teachers at NM Tsuene are motivated by the generous sponsorship by Telkom Foundation – each of the Grade 8 classes received an interactive board and learner tablets for teaching and learning. Sadly, the learner tablets were stolen from this school in a burglary, however this has not changed the teachers enthusiasm towards technology and the school is constantly seeking ways in which they can recover what they have lost through civvies day donations and other creative ways of fund raising.

This picture shows the teachers of NM Tsuene working in their computer lab before the burglary.

We look forward to hearing more about what this inspirational principal and his staff members are able to achieve at NM Tsuene.