Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Tshwane West Interns boost their technical support skills

During the October school break, 32 of the 42 Tshwane West interns attended a two day workshop. The intention of this session was to provide the interns with some strategies and resources that they can use when supporting teachers and learners with ICT integration and technical support. The sessions took place at the Thuto-Pele Education Centre in in Ga-Rankuwa. Whilst this centre had a computer lab, interns were encouraged to use their own laptops as these are the digital tools that they use at the schools they support. 

On the first day of training, 3 October 2018, SchoolNet SA facilitator Mathapelo Sehume and technical assistant Siya Ntshintshi encouraged participants to add their expectations for the workshop  to a collaborative Google doc. The interns then "hit the ground running" with a challenge that involved each group being given a laptop with some technical issues that they had to solve. This exercise tested technical and problem solving skills and demonstrated the importance of following technical support processes and thinking systematically when confronted with technical challenges. 

Each group was then tasked with creating a PowerPoint presentation outlining the challenges the groups faced; the steps they took to resolve the challenges; and what it would take for the laptops they examined to be fully functional. These presentations were uploaded to a Google drive and one group member was randomly selected to present the findings of the group. This activity aimed to develop collaboration and presentation skills. 

The second day of training, 4 October 2018, began with a presentation from Pearson representatives. Their session aimed to provide the interns with the skills they would need to help teachers make better use of the Pearson resources that have been pre-installed on interactive boards provided in a Tshwane West schools.

The delegates then moved to the computer lab where Megan Rademeyer from Schoolnet SA introduced the group to the “YourthSpark Hour of Code”. After explaining the Hour of Code concept  Megan encouraged the interns to run Hour of Code sessions at their schools. The group worked through the first three Minecraft themed Hour of Code tutorials together, before the facilitator challenged the interns to complete the rest of the tutorials on their own. All participants were excited to try their hand at basic coding and wasted no time trying to complete the remaining stages. 

In the second phase of the training, Mathapelo introduced the interns to the Microsoft Digital Literacy course. She motivated the interns to encourage learners to complete the course to earn a digital competency certificate before learning school. Furthermore, Mathapelo encouraged the interns to assist the Grade 12 learners with their university applications.

In the final session, interns were introduced to the Microsoft ICT Skills for Teachers course and began to work through some of the scenarios. Interns were encouraged to upload their completed artifacts to their portfolios of evidence and to share them with the facilitator for assessment. Interns were informed that helping teachers develop digital skills would make teachers more self-sufficient with performing administrative tasks, leaving interns more time to be of technical assistance.

The training session ended with the team talking through the interns' expectations and how they were met through the training sessions. Most of the interns were delighted to be part of the training session and reported learning far more than what they were expecting. The group appreciated the initiative and were looking forward to implementing what they had learnt at the workshop when schools resumed after the break.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Mpumalanga teachers learn skills to run coding lessons

SchoolNet SA teamed up with the Mpumalanga ICT Club to run a number of train-the-trainer workshops at different venues across the province. The aim of these sessions was to motivate teachers to learn some basic coding skills, and to then share these with learners by running the Hour of Code at their schools and getting their learners to code something "from scratch" using Scratch programming.

In addition to trying out Scratch and the Minecraft themed Hour of Code tutorials, teachers were given tips on how to facilitate one of these sessions at their schools. Delegates were encouraged to join the Microsoft Educator Community to complete the "Facilitating the Hour of Code" online course, as well as other courses related to using technology in the classroom. Once they had experienced the basics of coding, delegates were introduced to Scratch, and attempted to code their own scene by dropping in pictures, music and movement blocks. 

With Africa Code Week coming up between 5 and 19 October 2018, and the International Computer Science week taking place in the first week of December 2018, the idea behind these sessions was to upskill as many Mpumalanga teachers as possible to be able to run introductory computer science sessions for their learners.

An important part of each session was Nomusa Keninda's presentation about the Mpumalanga ICT Club and the role that this community of practice plays in empowering teachers, learners, community members and youth to develop IT skills. It is hoped that teachers in other districts will be encouraged to start their own communities of practice and that they will establish coding clubs in their schools and communities.

Whilst the workshops followed a similar pattern, here are some of the highlights from each of the recent Train the Trainer Coding workshops:

18 August 2018 - Emalahleni
At this session, the teachers who arrived early were encouraged to do the Google Code Bunny activity whilst they waited for the session to start. This activity was developed as a Google Doodle to celebrate 50 years of kids coding, and it provides a fun way of introducing coding to children who have never coded before, and who can't yet read complicated instructions. Whilst the activity starts off simply, it soon requires some computational thinking to get the bunny to the carrots!

25 August 2018 - Siyabuswa 
The attendance at this session was better than expected - with over 70 teachers heeding the call to learn some basic coding. Unfortunately the internet was down in one of the labs but by using the offline Hour of Code Minecraft Adventurer materials we were able to demonstrate how the lack of connectivity needn't be a barrier to learning some basic coding.

8 September 2018 - Waterval Boven 
After the plenary sessions, the group was split into two with each group taking a turn to do some Scratch programming and to try out the Hour of Code. We were impressed with a number of teachers who easily reached the final level in the Hour of Code Tutorial, earned their certificate and then went on to assist other teachers in the room who needed a bit of support. We know there are definitely some potential facilitators in this group!

27 September 2018 - Kanyamazane
This session, held at the Ehlanzeni offices of the Mpumalanga Department of Education was also the kick-off event for this district's own community of practice championed by Zanele Khumalo. The teachers of Kanyamazane were excited to wear white clothes and flower ribbons - which have become the brand of the Mpumalanga ICT Club. Although we had some challenges getting the materials loaded on to teachers and officials' own laptops, this proved to participants that they can use the equipment they have available to run sessions for their schools. Furthermore, we are hopeful that those who didn't reach the end of the tutorial at the workshop will complete it in their own time. 

How can you get involved?
If you have the opportunity to attend a face to face workshop, please do join us. However, we'd also encourage teachers to check out Nomusa Keninda and Megan Rademeyer discussing how to facilitate the hour of code on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. Finally - the whole idea of attending a training of trainers workshop is to train others - so we do encourage teachers who attended the workshops to train their colleagues and to run basic computer science workshops for their learners. If the teachers got this excited when they coded Steve or Alex to complete a challenge, image how excited learners will be to write their first line of code.

Monday, 1 October 2018

South African learners compete at international coding olympiad in Japan

The International Olympiad for Informatics (IOI) is an international coding competition for high school learners that takes place in a different country every year. This year, a record 335 participants from 87 countries travelled to Japan to put their programming skills to the test.

The South African team consisted of Tian Cilliers (Stellenbosch High School), Ralph McDougall (Curro Durbanville) Taariq Mowzer (Fairbairn College) and Emile Tredoux (Parklands College). They earned their spots at the 30th IOI in Tsubuka, Japan by winning the 2017 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad.

Taariq Mowzer, Ralph McDougall (wearing team mascot, Bit the python), Tian Cilliers, Emile Tredoux

Taariq Mowzer, Ralph McDougall and Tian Cilliers came third, fourth and sixth respectively out of the 19 contestants from Africa. Whilst unfortunately they didn’t win any medals, the South African delegation had a once in a lifetime experience of mixing with young programmers from around the world and experiencing different cultures. The participants also had the unanticipated experiences of a typhoon and two earthquakes whilst in Japan. Tian recalls, “We immediately saw signs of Japanese culture when we arrived at the airport: self-service biometric stations and posters advertising Anime Tours.” Ralph added: “We were amazed at the opening ceremony when the holographic depiction of the IOI mascot came to life and welcomed us.”

Whilst contestants were given a choice of programming languages to solve the six problems they were presented with, most used C++, seven used Java and only one used Pascal. Disappointingly among the 355 participants there were only two or three girls. In an effort to encourage more females to participate, the Institute for IT Professionals is issuing bursaries at school level and beyond to female coders.

The winners of the 2018 Standard Bank Computer Olympiad will compete in the International Olympiad for Informatics in Azerbaijan, and the 2019 winners will travel to Singapore in 2020. If you are a high school learner with a passion for coding and you would like to earn a spot at one of these international events, read more about the South African Programming Olympiad and look out for next year’s competition in March 2019. If you are just starting out, and want to develop the thinking skills that will serve you well in programming, we encourage you to try out the Talent Search computational thinking challenge.

Friday, 28 September 2018

KZN Subject Advisors master skills for using Tablets in the Classroom

SchoolNet SA has been running a programme of professional development courses aimed at upskilling KwaZulu-Natal Subject Advisors to support teachers to make better use of digital tools as teaching and learning resources. To date, the GET subject advisors group have completed the ICT Skills for Teachers and using Digital Resources in the Classroom courses. In this blogpost we describe the first group of Subject Advisors Tablets in the Classroom course which took place in Bergville between 17 and 21 September 2018.

What was covered?
The Tablets in the Classroom course comprises four compulsory modules: Tablet Fundamentals, Educational Applications and Software, Tablet Integration and Student Assessment, and Effective Tablet Management in the Classroom. In this workshop, subject advisors were also introduced to the Minecraft themed Hour of Code tutorials which teachers can use to introduce learners to basic coding and they tried out the Computer Olympiad Talent Search computational thinking materials. In addition to learning about tablets, the course participants were introduced to new collaborative strategies for teaching and learning in mobile environments that meet the needs of all learners.

Who attended?
Thirty eight subject advisors from Umkhanyakude, Ilembe, Pinetown, Zululand, Umlazi and King Cetshwayo districts attended the workshop. According to the facilitators, Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo, “the subject advisors were very enthusiastic and receptive throughout the week; they did not feel the long hours in the day because of their sense of humour.”

Highlights of Day 1
The subject advisors loved the photo-booth activity and raced to take photos of themselves. After a bit of fun, the delegates were divided into two groups and the Jigsaw strategy was used to orientate subject advisors to some of the features of their tablets. Participants were not familiar with the Jigsaw strategy, but they found it very effective and were able to master a number of skills quickly. One participant, Mondli Mkhwanazi said: “The learners can learn a lot in a short period of time”. Another activity involved using ArtRage to draw their “inner animals”. This activity provided an opportunity to master using one’s fingers to draw, this activity gave the group practice in uploading their creations to Google drive.

Highlights of Day 2
On the second day the group learnt more about Google drive, YouTube and the Microsoft Educator Community. The facilitators then introduced coding and stressed that even simple coding activities can develop learners’ creativity, collaboration and problem solving skills. The group enjoyed trying out the Minecraft themed Hour of Code challenge, however, the slow internet led to some frustration.

Highlights of Day 3
After reflecting on the previous day’s activities the subject advisors had a bit more time to complete the Minecraft Adventurer coding activity. Many subject advisors reached the final level and each time one obtained a certificate, the group clapped for them, motivating others. As part of the Tablets in the Classroom course, delegates learn about how tablets can be used for student assessment. The facilitators prepared a computational thinking quiz using www.quizizz.com and then tasked subject advisors with devising their own quiz using this free online tool and trying out one another's online assessments.

Highlights of Day 4
The focus of day 4 was on internet safety and security as well as effective classroom management ideas for using tablets. The group was introduced to Poll Everywhere and used this tool to vote for the best name card and YouTube videos which delegates had shared.

The gala dinner on Thursday evening was a celebration of the week’s worth of learning, an opportunity to dress up and a chance to recognize prize winners for the week. Mr Reggie Masondo, Maths Science and Technology and ICT deputy director for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, thanked SchoolNet SA and the facilitators for providing another successful professional development workshop. Nombuso Makhaza, one of the subject advisors, confirmed their complete satisfaction as participants with this workshop.

Highlights of Day 5
The final day of training was spent developing action plans for sharing their learnings with teachers in their districts. The workshop was a huge success from both the facilitators’ and the participants’ perspectives. We look forward to hearing how the subject advisors make use of the new tools and strategies that they have been exposed to and how they share their learnings with teachers in their districts.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Earn your place at Global E2 2019 - Paris by completing these missions

South African teachers who have attended a Global E2 event in Toronto, Singapore, Redmond or Budapest agree that these have been amazing professional development and networking events. Not to mention an opportunity to visit another country and experience another culture.

The 2019 Global Microsoft Educator Exchange will be taking place in Paris, France. Three teachers from South Africa or Lesotho will be selected to attend this international gathering of some of the world's most innovative teachers. To stand a chance of winning one of these three spots, Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts will need to complete the following missions.

Get mission ready - Become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)
If you are not already part of this global professional learning community of teachers, it's not too late to join. Find out more about this program and join it through the Microsoft Educator Community.

Mission 1 - Upload a lesson to the Microsoft Educator Community 
  • Date to note: Do this by 16 November 2018. 
  • Encourage other teachers to view and vote for your lesson.

Mission 2 - Participate in the global Microsoft Skype-a-thon
  • Date to note: 13 or 14 November 2018 - check the MEC link above for details as dates may change
  • Connect with learners in South Africa or beyond - and tweet about your involvement - without showing learner faces.

Mission 3 - Host an Hour of Code session for learners at your school
  • Dates to note: Between now and 16 November 2018 
  • You can use the free Minecraft themed Hour of Code materials to do this and can access the "Facilitating an Hour of Code" course for some pointers and resources for running your session.
  • Tweet some pics of how you are getting learners involved in coding - without showing learner faces.

Bonus Missions - Boost your chances of being selected for Global E2 2019 - Paris by:

Share what you are doing on social media
Ensure that you use the #WhatsnewinEDU and tag @MicrosoftEduSA in your tweets so that Microsoft can keep track of your missions being accomplished.

For more information and competition terms and conditions please view the 
Countdown to E2 Competition Information Sheet
Please note that teachers who have already had an opportunity to attend a previous Global E2 event will not be eligible for this offer.
MIE Experts who want to be considered for the Global E2 would need to complete all of these missions by 17 November 2018.

Contact Ronelle Klinck, Microsoft Teacher Engagement Manager, for any queries related to Global E2 2019 by email.  

Monday, 17 September 2018

UNESCO Prize for ICT in Education - open for applications

Does your school or organisation use digital tools in innovative ways to ensure education for vulnerable groups of people? If so, consider applying for this year's UNESCO ICT in Education Prize.

Funded by the Kingdom of Bahrain and established in 2005, the Prize rewards individuals and organizations that are carrying out outstanding projects to improve teaching and learning in the digital age. It calls attention to excellent models, best practices and creative uses of ICTs to enhance overall education performance. The two winners of the prize will each be awarded US$25,000 and will be invited for the award ceremony to Paris next March.

For the past years, the Prize has promoted the use of new technologies to expand educational opportunities and increase access to quality education for vulnerable groups. This year the Prize will highlight projects that use integrated solutions that blend commonly used technology with frontier ICT applications to ensure education for the most vulnerable groups.

Who is eligible?
Individuals, institutions or non-governmental organizations that have made outstanding innovation and significant contributions through projects to support and/or promote the creative use of ICT to ensure education for excluded vulnerable groups are eligible for the Prize.  The following criteria will be considered:
  • Duration of projects/activities must be of at least one year to permit an assessment of results; 
  • Innovation and openness of content and tool; 
  • Evidence of sustainability for mid- to long-term application; 
  • The project/activity should be a first time nomination for a Prize of this kind.

More information:
If you think your project is a possible contender for the ICT in Education Prize, you will need to complete an online application and your project and organisation will need to be nominated. 
Find out more about the UNESCO ICT in Education prize here and the more detail on the requirements and entry process here.

Remember: The closing date for applications and nominations is 31 October 2018.

Friday, 14 September 2018

iEARN Learning Circles Registration Open!

If you are looking for well-run international collaborative project for your learners to participate in, don't miss the next session of  iEARN Global Learning Circles!

What are Learning Circles?
Learning Circles are highly interactive, project-based partnerships among a small number of schools located throughout the world. Teachers sign up and are then assigned to a group based on their interest and the grade level and subjects they teach. Themes for projects include: Places and Perspectives, My Hero, or Global Issues: Environment.

When and where do I sign up?
The new projects will be kicking off on 30 September 2018 and will run until mid-January 2019. There is a topic for each grade level and you will be guided through each step of the process. Check out the Learning Circles page for more information and register by 15 September 2018 if you would like to participate.

Here are just some of the projects, related to the Sustainable Development Goals, that you could get involved in:

Solar Explorers Project
This project runs from September through to the end of December 2018. This project focuses on SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Participants in the project will research alternative energy sources with a focus on solar energy. They will then design, construct and test a solar cooker as an example of alternative energy use and compare their results with other schools.

International Book Club
Join the International Book Club and collaborate to read and discuss books that connect to SDG's. There are two ways to participate in the project: connect with another teacher in another country to form a book club partnership and select your books and activities - OR - you and your students may collaborate with a group of other teachers and students from several countries to read, discuss, and complete projects related to our featured books for this year.

Games for Change
Are you interested in digital and other games that address global issues? Games for Change has demonstrated that young people can create games that both address issues included in the UN’s SDGs (hunger, peace, health/disease, access to education, climate change, nuclear confrontation, and many others) and enable students to gain technology skills and have fun. Some examples of games that have been produced include World without Oil and PeaceMaker.

For more information about iEARN Learning Circles, including Frequently Asked Questions, see www.globallearningcircles.org. A Learning Circles Teachers Guide is available to help educators organize their participation.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Commonweath of Learning Teacher Futures kicks off in Alice

The Commonwealth of Learning in partnership with the Department of Basic Education is supporting a teacher development programme in South Africa being implemented at the University of Fort Hare. Ten high schools in the Amathole District have been selected to participate in this three year Teacher Futures programme, which will be facilitated by SchoolNet South Africa and supported by the Eastern Cape Department of Education, another partner in this project.

This Planning Forum for the Teacher Futures initiative in South Africa took place at the University of Fort Hare Alice campus from 3 – 6 September 2018. Stakeholders who attended the Forum, included representatives from the national, provincial and district departments of education, the Nelson Mandela Institute of Education and Rural Development, all ten participating schools, the Faculty of Education and the Teaching and Learning Centre at the University of Fort Hare.

What is Teacher Futures?

The impetus for the Teacher Futures professional development programme came from the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and specifically Goal 4 around quality education and increasing the supply of qualified teachers. The overarching theme, of learning for sustainable development, features throughout the Teacher Futures programme with the aim of supporting school-based teacher development that can be sustained and scaled through the use of technology. 

How does Teacher Futures relate to South Africa?

The Commonwealth of Learning Teacher Futures Programme provides some content and guidelines, however, each country involved is able to able to adapt or use the content in a way that is appropriate for the context. In South Africa, digital learning was selected as a focus area for the programme and this presented an opportunity for the National Department of Basic Education's  recently published  Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning to be presented to the planning forum by Kulula Manona and Gerald Roos of the LTSM, Policy Development and Innovation directorate.

Delegates were surprised to discover that the Teacher Futures programme is closely aligned to both the principles of learning at the University as well as the Framework for Digital Learning.  For example, the Teacher Futures programme promotes learner-centredness, problem-based learning and the contribution that communities of practice, which also feature in local policy documents and which can be supported or enhanced through the effective use of technology. 

Next steps

The outcome of this forum will be to familiarize all stakeholders with the pillars of the Teacher Futures programme, to then plot a pathway for local high school teachers to benefit from increased resources and support from UFH and to design relevant professional development qualifications and short courses.

YouthSpark Professional Development for KZN Focus Schools

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has provided 165 focus schools with technology devices for learners. Having seen how successful YouthSpark training can be to introduce teachers to basic computer science resources that can use with learners, SchoolNet SA was asked to run workshops with champion teachers selected from eighty of these schools. It was hoped that having access to some free resources aimed at youth, a portal of online training resources aimed at teachers, as well as the skills and confidence to run a range of activities using digital tools, that teachers and learners will make better use of the resources they have been given.

Four sessions were conducted at the Bergville Education Centre between 27 August and 6 September 2018, with SchoolNet SA facilitators Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo each working with a group of approximately 20 teachers for two days per group. Across two busy weeks of training, a total of 155 teachers were trained. In this blogpost we describe the first groups' training sessions, however, all teachers in this project experienced a similar program and pictures come from the various workshops that were held.

The first day of training got off to a slow start as a result of logistical challenges, however the vibrant and enthusiastic group, comprising teachers of all ages, were eager to learn new knowledge and skills. Both groups converged into one room for welcomes and introductions where Mr Reggie Masondo (Deputy director for the MST and ICT Directorate of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education) introduced the facilitators who in turn gave an overview of the Hour of Code.

After splitting into the two computer labs the teachers jumped straight into coding using the Minecraft Adventure Hour of Code tutorial. Whilst the facilitators held the trainees hands for the first three puzzle levels, after that they were on their own and encouraged to seek help from one another to build self-reliance. A number of teachers completed all 14 puzzles and they were thrilled to receive a Minecraft certificate and an Hour of Code pen or a SchoolNet branded ruler in recognition of their achievement.

The teachers were encouraged to join the Microsoft Educator Community (MEC) to have access to a range of online professional development courses that they can do at no cost, when and where it suits them. Unfortunately the slow internet connection, inactive teacher e-mail accounts and technical challenges with the laptops slowed this process down, but eventually all teachers were registered. The facilitators talked delegates through the contents of the MEC website focusing on the courses and resources, the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program, lesson plans, connecting with other educators and using the filter when searching for courses. Having played the Minecraft adventure game, trainees completed the Hour of Code facilitation course so that they could see how to run this activity for their learners and could access the facilitator materials.

The next activity focused on Computational Thinking and made use of the Computer Olympiad talent search website as a great resource for activities that build thinking skills. Whilst delegates questioned whether they would be able to use the online quizzes at schools without internet access, they were relieved to learn that one could also take the tests offline and that some past papers are available to use as paper-based tests or worksheets. Teachers concurred that they could start with the past papers, and that once their learners had a bit more practice, they could participate in the national competition. After successfully completing the MEC course on Computational Thinking teachers took great delight in adding some badges and certificates to their online portfolios.

On the second day of training the teachers were introduced to the online Microbit which they could code to perform a range of tasks based on different inputs. Whilst this form of coding was different to the Hour of Code puzzles, the teachers still enjoyed it and were encouraged to explore more coding projects on the code.org site. Teachers were then taught about using online documents to collaborate and share information and practiced working on one document to share reflections of the courses done thus far. Teachers agreed that these skills would be useful when it came to making better use of the shared laptops that their schools have been given.

The final training session provided teachers with an opportunity to complete MEC courses of their choice. Many chose to do some of the Digital Skills for Teachers courses, and they shared their completed artifacts with the group. It was encouraging to see teachers racing to earn additional badges and certificates, however, the facilitators stressed that the best way of displaying their learning was to cascade the skills and knowledge that they had learnt to colleagues back at their schools and to run the YouthSpark activities with learners or out-of-school youth in their communities. The workshops ended on a high note with teachers vowing to use what they had learnt to improve learner performance and to generate an interest and excitement for STEM subjects.