Monday, 16 July 2018

Step up to Computer Science - Tips for teachers

Even if your school does not offer Information Technology as a subject, and even if you have no formal training in computer science, you can still introduce your learners to basic computer science concepts as part of their digital literacy lessons or perhaps as an extra-mural activity.


Recently Bonolo Sedupane featured in a Microsoft Virtual Academy encouraging teachers to 'Step up to Computer Science'. She gave a range of tips for setting up a computer science class for younger learners, including:

  • arrange the working spaces to encourage collaboration
  • use wall space to present ideas
  • ensure computers are available, but don't feel that that you need to use them in every lesson.
  • Create a culture where students feel safe and valued
  • Empower students to be teachers as well as learners

Teachers wanting to develop computer science skills among older learners should:
  • Aim for a dynamic space that mirrors the real world
  • Make use of social media to connect with other teachers and learners and to stay abreast of new developments
  • Increase student engagement through personalisation
  • Differentiate work so students can master basics and pursue own interests 
  • Have extension activities available
  • Bring experts into class via Skype


Whilst the Virtual Academy focuses on the South African context, teachers are also encouraged to complete the 'Step up to Computer Science' course on the Microsoft Educator Community which gives a global perspective. This course covers topics for educators looking to start a computer science program in their school, are curious how other educators run their computer science program, or would like to integrate computer science skills into other subjects. 


Friday, 13 July 2018

Step Ahead Primary steps up their teachers' coding skills

Step Ahead Primary School, situated in Tsomo in rural Eastern Cape, used its own funds to establish a 30-seater computer lab and WIFI zone. This ICT resource centre is made available to learners from the school as well as the education community at large who benefit from its resources. Step Ahead’s mission is to join hands with other computational thinkers in the world in promoting the use of ICTs in imparting the 21st Century Skills to learners. With this mission in mind, Elfas Mcloud, the Step Ahead ICT Program Coordinator, thought that the YouthSpark training would provide the Step Ahead teachers with additonal tools and resources to use with learners.


Elfas attended the SchoolNet SA Conference in 2017 at Brescia House School and signed up as a SchoolNet SA member. After seeing posts about other YouthSpark training sessions that SchoolNet SA conducted, he approached SchoolNet SA about running Microsoft funded workshops for teachers so that they could run introductory coding and computational thinking activities for learners. 


Thirty teachers from Step Ahead Primary School and other schools in the area attended the workshop which took place on 25 and 26 June 2018. At the start of the workshop, all teachers were encouraged to register on the Microsoft Educator Community. They then completed the Hour of Code as participants before learning how to facilitate a session using these resources for their learners. 


According to Elfas, “The beginning of the training was not easy as teachers did not understand what they would get from it. Also, being the start of their holiday, some teachers were not happy to be present. They were proved wrong as the energetic SchoolNet SA trainer Sandile Maliwa took them from ground zero to cloud nine in the two days. Sandile made the day exciting and within a few hours teachers were refusing to go for lunch and asking for an extension of the training into other areas on how to integrate ICTs into their teaching areas.”


The master trainer for this course noted that the training venue was “superb” with enough PCs for all the teachers. The only technical challenge was accessing some sites on the Internet which were a bit slow which affected the timely registration teachers on the Microsoft Educators Community Platform. To mitigate this, for some activities teachers worked together - which also provided them with an opportunity to collaborate.


In addition to completing the Hour of Code, the group also completed a workshop on Computational Thinking and Physical Computing and they learnt how to access free Microsoft software for learners through the Mahala program. (we encourage teachers to click on the links to access these free resources for themselves!)


Elfas thanked Microsoft and SchoolNet SA for making the training available to teachers.
“It was an eye opener! It left our teachers and those invited from surrounding schools with a hunger for similar trainings that with the school’s digital leaning program. We are eager to disseminate and instill the leaned skills to out learners.”

The gratitude for the workshop was shared by other teachers who attended:

“This course has absolutely broadened my knowledge. Our facilitator has made us clearer on how to do coding”

“It was a fruitful session, I have gained more than I have expected. I’m now familiar with scenarios in coding and will now take it to my class”

“It will be highly appreciated if the training is expanded into all areas in ICT integration into our teaching areas. To Microsoft and SchoolNet you are really doing a great job keep it up. My skills have been sharpened and I am going to impart what was taught to me to my learners”

Following on from the YouthSpark training Step Ahead will now move onto launching its digital leaning platform which will see 400 learners accessing digital tools and resources via tablets. We are thrilled that they will be able to include some basic coding, computational thinking and physical computing activities as part of the program for learners. 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Coding gets creative: Use Touch Develop to create apps and games

Bonolo Sedupane recently featured in a Microsoft Virtual Academy entitled  'Creative coding through games and apps'. In the webinar, Bonolo gives some ideas for secondary school teachers who want to introduce programming to a broad range of learners, including those who may never have considered programming before.


Bonolo makes the point that even if learners are not taking Information Technology as a school subject, doing some simple programming as part of computer literacy lessons or at an after school computer club can:
  • Teach the fundamentals of programming and computational thinking
  • Instil confidence in working with technology
  • Foster creativity, curiosity, and collaboration and
  • Teach how to program computing devices to make things of real-world interest and use
For example, a simple activity such as coding a turtle to move around the screen can introduce learners to basic computer terminology whilst developing perseverance, and their ability to learn as they go along and to break something down in to simple steps.



If you would like to try out this activity for yourself, go to touchdevelop.com  and chose to do the "First Steps with turtle" tutorial. Once you have mastered moving your turtle, see what creative coding activities you may like to try using simple code. Then - commit yourself to setting up an activity for your learners to try out Touch Develop too.


Thursday, 5 July 2018

ICT Skills for Teachers - Tip sheets updated

The ICT Skills for Teachers course remains one of SchoolNet SA's most popular offerings and with the addition of tip-sheets for the latest versions of Microsoft Office, the course has just become even more useful.


Teachers enjoy learning how to use digital tools such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel - but in contexts that are useful and meaningful to them as teachers. For example, instead of learning lots of Excel functionality that they are unlikely to use again after the training, teachers instead chose from education based scenarios such as Create a Simple Marksheet. Whilst working through this scenario, teachers would learn how to change column widths, calculate percentages, and determine a learner's total for the term, which are skills they will definitely use again in the context of their professional work. 

There are 36 different scenarios in the ICT Skills for Teachers course covering beginner, intermediate and advanced skills as well as a variety of tools. At workshops, teachers are encouraged to select scenarios that they will find useful which keeps them motivated and ensures that they create artifacts that they will actually use after training.

We also encourage teachers to try out related scenarios - for example once they have created a simple marksheet they may want to move on to create an interactive marksheet - so that they stretch their existing skills without feeling overwhelmed.


The ICT Skills for Teachers course incorporates 'just-in-time' learning which means teachers learn how to do things as they need to do them, not just in case they may require a skill at a later stage. For example,  If a teacher already knows how to adjust column widths in Excel, he or she just performs the task on his or her own marksheet. But if someone doesn't know how to do this, it is easy to access a tip sheet by clicking on the "see how" link. This will then open up annotated, step-by-step instructions.

SchoolNet SA recently updated the tip-sheets for the Microsoft Partners in Learning ICT Skills for Teachers course to show screen-shots and instructions for Office 2016 and O365. This will make it easier for teachers using these versions of Microsoft software to work through the scenarios.

Whilst teachers can work through these scenarios anywhere, anytime, the materials work best when offered as a face-to-face workshop, with teachers working with a facilitator to see how to use the materials, learning from one another and showcasing their work.

Please contact info@schoolnet.org.za if you are interested in arranging a SACE endorsed ICT Skills for Teachers workshop for your schools. We can then send you a quote based on where you are situated and how many teachers require training.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Computer Science Intro for Gauteng Telkom Connected Schools

Just because your school doesn't offer Information Technology or Computer Applications Technology as subjects, doesn't mean that you can't expose your learners to a basic introduction to computer science and careers that use technology.

On 15 June 2018, sixteen teachers and four technology support specialists from Gauteng Telkom Connected schools tried their hand at basic coding at MH Baloyi High School. This session, facilitated by SchoolNet SA, forms part of the Microsoft YouthSpark project which aims to provide basic computer science training to teachers so that they can expose more learners to basic coding and computational thinking.


The group were first introduced to the Microsoft #MakeWhatsNext program and discussed the shortage of women and Africans who have made names for themselves in the technology field. Teachers were encouraged to show their learners the makewhatsnext/careers tool which allows someone to see what careers may suit them based on two of their interests. This tool can be used in  life orientation lessons or to get learners to consider a range of careers prior to selecting subjects for grade 10.


Having seen a need to expose their learners to basic coding and computer science concepts, the group then tried out the Minecraft Adventurer tutorial on the Hour of Code website. These simple resources help to teach basic coding concepts using drag and drop blocks that that lead to a Minecraft themed character performing certain actions based on the commands given. Whilst the teachers found the tutorial challenging at first, once they had learnt the basic concepts they were eager to solve the increasingly more difficult puzzles.


Whilst none of the schools represented offer Information Technology as a subject, and only one school offered Computer Applications Technology, we hope that the delegates who attended these sessions will use the resources provided to give learners a taste of coding and an opportunity to think about careers in STEM.

If you would like to facilitate an Hour of Code session for your learners, have a look at the Facilitating an Hour of Code course on the Microsoft Educator Community to get started.

Monday, 2 July 2018

NTA Winners attend Innovation Leadership ICTs in Education Conference

As part of the 2018 National Teachers Awards, SchoolNet SA sponsored the three winning teachers in the ICT Enhanced Education category to attend an educational conference of their choice. All three winners chose to attend the inaugural event of the Innovation Leadership ICTs in Education conference which was held at St Dominic’s Priory in Port Elizabeth on 25 and 26 June 2018. Furthermore, as part of the Microsoft YouthSpark project, we sponsored an additional five teachers from under-resourced schools in the Eastern Cape to attend this conference in the hopes that they would be able to share some of the strategies they learnt to promote computer science to their learners.


The two day conference, hosted by the Young Engineers of South Africa, was attended by 26 teachers and eLearning specialists who share an interest in using digital tools to support education. Father Grant James, the Principal of St Dominic’s laid the foundation for the two day event which was packed with a broad range of topics.


One of the highlights was Prof Jean Greyling of NMU's session which involved delegates downloading an app onto their smart phones to participate in tangible computing using jigsaw puzzle type blocks placed on a table top in the right sequence. Image recognition software then converted the images into code which was executed on their smart phones to direct the tank to reach its destination as part of a game.


The rest of the conference contextualised various software and hardware tools and focused on promoting creativity among learners. This included the use of open source software, and a range of other apps to encourage 21st century skills development. Dr Ron Beyers, the conference convener noted that "Stimulating creativity is an essential component on the road to true innovation with products being taken to the market. This will provide an essential theme for the next event where planning for 2019 has already begun."


"Thanks must go to SchoolNet SA for their role in the conference especially in promoting the event amongst schools and for sponsoring delegates to the conference. This included three teachers who participated in the National Teachers Awards – ICT Enhanced Education category as well as educators from local schools. St Dominic’s provided an ideal venue for this event and thanks must go to Fr Grant James for his willingness and dedication to host this event", said Beyers.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Getting KwaNdengezi Teachers Coding

SchoolNet SA has been working with teachers from twelve schools in KwaNdengezi that are supported by the Rotary Club of Pinetown to make more effective use of digital resources to enhance their teaching. As part of a Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark project, twenty four of these teachers spent two days of their June holidays learning at Hillcrest High School in KwaZulu-Natal learning some basic computer science skills that they can share with their learners when school reopens. SchoolNet SA facilitators, Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo report that the workshops were a great success. Here are some of the highlights:

Day 1: 25 June 2018 – Getting to grips with the Microsoft Educator Community
While waiting for the other participants to arrive, the facilitators helped the early birds to register with on the Microsoft Educator Community. As the rest of the participants joined the class, they followed suit. Just before break, Dr. Nkabinde of the MST&ICT Directorate of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education officially opened the workshop and Mrs. Mfeka introduced the group to the MEC website.

Facilitating an Hour of Code
After break, Mrs. Mfeka facilitated the Hour of Code so that the teachers could see how even simple coding activities can help develop 21st Century skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. The teachers worked their way through the Minecraft Adventurer tutorial at code.org/minecraft. This was challenging at first but teachers soon started solving the puzzles and enjoying the activities so much that they did not want to stop.

Sibongakonke Shabangu from Ziphathele Secondary got the furthest along with the Hour of Code tutorials, closely followed Njabulo Mlotshwa, Siyabonga Zuma and Ziningi Mabanga. Once they had experienced the Hour of Code as participants the teachers then completed the Hour of Code: Facilitation Course on MEC. Most felt they were confident to facilitate the course with their learners and were happy to receive a badge indicating that they are now Hour of Code facilitators.

Testing and Developing Computational Thinking
After lunch, Mr Senzo Ngcobo, introduced the group to Computational Thinking using the Talent Search resources on the Computer Olympiad website to give teachers an opportunity to test their own skills. The Computer Olympiad aims to give learners an opportunity to test and develop thinking skills that are useful for computer programming even if they don't have access to computers or computer science as subject at their schools. Although the group were doing a grade 5 past paper, and were allowed to consult with neighbors, some of the questions still took some careful thinking and logical reasoning. The teachers concurred that if they could expose their learners to such exercises, their performance in STEM subjects would significantly improve and learners with an aptitude for computer science could be encouraged to pursue this area of study. The teachers then successfully completed the Computational Thinking Course on the MEC and actively shared their views on how such activities and strategies could benefit learners.


Day 2: 27 June 2018 – Trying out Physical Computing
For this session delegates learnt more about physical computing and then completed the online Physical Computing Course on the Microsoft Educator Community. The group then visited the makecode.com website and used the Microbit simulator flash out their names. This was extremely exciting to the teachers, for they had never imagined themselves doing this. They said they could not wait to help their learners to code, using tools like makecode.com because this would develop their creativity and critical thinking skills.


Using Scratch for programming
The final session involved delegates being introduced to Scratch programming and trying out a few of the simple activities. Delegates were then given a choice of either continuing with the more advanced Scratch activities or completing additional courses on the Microsoft Educator Community of their own choice. Participants were stunned by the numerous resources available for them in the MEC website.  One facilitator caught Thokozani talking to herself saying, “why wasting money enrolling for computer courses because everything I need is here (pointing at the MEC page)”.



Getting learners coding
We look forward to hearing how the teachers who attended this workshop roll out the activities they participated in to their learners. They came up with some great strategies for sharing their skills in their action plans so we hope that they are able to foster an interest in computer science by exposing learners to basic coding and computational thinking.


It isn't necessary to attend a face-to-face course to get your learners coding. Click on the links to the Microsoft Educator Community courses mentioned in this post to learn the basics yourself so that you can get your learners doing an Hour of Code, testing their computational thinking skills in the Computer Olympiad, trying their hand at physical computing using makecode.com, or coding using Scratch. All of these resources are fun and free and can be used even at schools with few resources and no computer science teacher. 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Facebook posts that help spread your message

If you manage your school or organisation's Facebook page - keep the following tips in mind to help build your community and get your posts read.


Watch your language. Your posts will be read by a wide audience of people who may not be familiar with the jargon and terminology used in your field. Keep your language simple and generic so that a non-expert can understand your posts. Don’t use profanity or your account will be blocked and people may unlike your page.

Give your posts a human face that is unique to your school or organisation. Posts shouldn’t read as if they were auto-generated. First-hand accounts of real people in your organisation and what they are doing are more likely to get people’s interest that content recycled from other pages.

Time your posts for when your audience will be interested. Look at your page statistics to see when most of your posts are viewed and aim to post at those times – or to schedule posts at times when people are likely to read them. You will have more views if you schedule posts for lunch time, evenings or break times when people are looking for something to read than posts in the middle of the night or during peak working hours.

Consider adding videos to your posts. The most viewed posts on Facebook are ones that include a video or an image. Be aware though that people using Free Facebook or Facebook Lite may not see your videos, and people may not want to use up too much of their own data playing your videos. Also – keep your videos short – most people stop watching after 30 seconds unless you really grab their attention. Remember that many people will watch your videos with the sound off so consider adding in subtitles so they can read the dialogue.

Use photographs with caution. Posts with great photos get more engagement than text only post however make sure you have got people’s permission to post their photos. If you are working with children, old people or people with sensitive health challenges take extra precautions not to reveal people’s identities unless you have written permission to do so. Possible work arounds include showing people from the back, taking photographs of their hands or feet only, blurring out faces, asking children to hold the items such as tablets or soccer balls in front of their faces. Other options include replacing photos with stock images from free photo sharing sites (not plagiarizing other people’s images) or using animations, clip art or cartoons.

Aim for short and sweet. Think of how you can convey your message in 140 characters (like a Tweet!) and aim to keep most of your posts to this length. If you do have longer content to share you can link to a longer article, blogpost or item on your website, but posts that are too long will get scrolled over.

Get a range of input but keep consistency. Few schools or organisations employ a full time person who is only responsible for social media – but you don’t want your Facebook page to only include photos and news from one department. To have a range of fresh news on their pages, some organisations and schools ask various people to send their content and photos to the person who actually posts it on Facebook. At other organisations, multiple people have publishing rights on the organisation’s page but they also aim to use a consistent style.

Include a call to action. If you want people to do something – like your post, donate to your cause, sign up to attend an event – make this clear in your post using simple language and including your request at the top of your post. Including a suitable image – for example of someone one the phone if you want people to call now – may also boost responses.
Consider reposting tweaked content. If you posted something and didn’t get many responses, consider reworking the post and posting it again. A different image and tweaked wording, or posting at a different time may boost engagement. Reposting the exact same post over and over, without other fresh posts in between though will lead to unlikes.

Read and respond to the comments. If people are asking lots of questions in the comments section about info that should have been obvious from your original post, your post may need reworking. Of course, comments that show engagement should be welcomed and questions should be responded to so that you show appreciation for people who have shown an interest in what you do.

Keep the 80-20 rule in mind. Provide content that your audience will enjoy 80% of the time – news and photos, memes, jokes, tips, links to useful articles etc. This will help you to build an audience, who can then respond to the 20% of your posts where you ask your audience to do something – register for an event, donate to your cause, share their views etc.

Tag people and organisations to help amplify your message. If you are working with another school or organisation on a project – tag them in your post so that it appears in their timeline. Ditto if specific people were involved in a project or event. Do this with caution though so people don’t feel that you are spamming them or taking over their timelines with your posts. If you like other organisations’ pages they may like you back – so that you can both benefit from working together.

Consider scheduling posts around a theme. You can schedule posts in advance which means that your page will always have fresh news even if the person who does your posting is unavailable or your school or organisation have no current events. Make a regular feature, such as #ThrowbackThursday (where you post images or events from your archives) or #MotivationMonday (which gives a thought or goal for the week) so that people start getting familiar with your posts.


Many of these tips and ideas were originally shared by Sam Posselt of Phambano Technology Development Centre, Cindy McNally who runs the SA NPO Network and Gina Woo the Facebook Global Programs for Good Manager at the Facebook NGO Day which took place in Sandton on 26 June 2018.  We will definitely be putting this advice into action on our SchoolNet SA Facebook page - but we are sharing this advice here because we know that a lot if it will apply to school Facebook pages too.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Building Communities with a Facebook page

More than 1,5 million non-profit organisations use Facebook Pages to build their communities – including SchoolNet SA. On 26 June 2018 we participated in the Facebook’s NGO Day workshop held at the Raddison Blu Hotel in Sandton #FBNGODAYSA. This workshop included a number of great sessions for representatives of NGOs who are using Facebook to share the work that their organisations are doing with their beneficiaries and funders.


At this workshop, Sam Posselt of Phambano Technology Development Centre, Cindy McNally who runs the SA NPO Network and Gina Woo the Facebook Global Program for Good Manager, shared some great tips for setting up and managing Facebook pages for organisations. We are including some of their tips on our blog because many of them will apply to schools that have Facebook pages.

In this post we focus on setting up the right kind of Facebook account for your school or organisation and in our next post we will focus on getting your posts read.

Don’t set up an account for your organisation or school as a normal Facebook profile (like the one you have for yourself). People will then need to make friends with you to view your posts and you will be limited to 5 000 “friends”.

Instead, set up a Facebook Page for your school or organisation. You can set up a business/ brand or fan page and encourage people in your community to “like” your page to engage with you. From a fan page you will be able to boost posts and you can target your message to people who have shown an interest in your organisation. If someone likes one of your posts – you can ask them to like your page to grow your audience.

Consider setting up a Facebook group. A Facebook group allows you to create a community of people who have something in common (for example they are your trainers or parents with learners at your school). People need to ask to join a Facebook group which helps keep out spammers and encourages people to follow the rules of the group. Group members can share information and resources using the files section and can ask questions of one another that are related to the aims of the group. Be aware though that you can’t boost posts within a group; it can be quite time consuming to moderate a group, and people have to join their groups in their personal capacities (i.e. they will post as themselves, not as their organisation’s Facebook page).


We hope these tips will help you to set up a Facebook page for your school. Please like our SchoolNet SA Facebook page if you haven't already done so so that you can stay up to date with our events and activities.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning published

The Department of Basic Education in South Africa has published a Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning. The aim of this Framework is to build educator competencies in facilitating learning with digital tools and resources.


Some of the topics addressed in the Framework include: the context and scope for digital literacy skills; factors influencing competence in digital literacy; and pedagogical transformation.

Training is underway in NorthWest, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to equip provincial officials with the skills to provide teacher workshops on understanding digital learning competences, with other provinces scheduled to also receive training.

SchoolNet SA was proud to be part of the team that gave input into the Framework. We know that it will be a valuable resource to guide teachers who use digital tools and resources to support learning as well as to school leaders and e-leaning specialists supporting staff in developing their digital learning competencies. 

Click on the link to download the Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning.
The Framework and its many supporting resources are available here.   
Teachers are also encouraged to try out the online diagnostic self-assessment tool.



Monday, 18 June 2018

Eastern Cape teachers build their digital skills


Over two weekends in June 2018, two hundred Eastern Cape teachers attended professional development workshops to build digital skills. These eight training sessions were sponsored by Microsoft, in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, to assist teachers to make better use of their Office 365 accounts and the Windows 10 laptops to enhance teaching and learning.

Whilst the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning team had already conducted a number of training sessions around the province, the following eight rural locations were selected for these sessions as these districts tend to have few professional development opportunities for teachers: 
  • Alfred Nzo East - Bizana District Offices
  • Alfred Nzo West - Maluti ICT Centre
  • OR Tambo Coastal - Lusikiski ICT Centre - Old Lusikisiki College
  • Amathole East - Butterworth ICT Centre – Mission Location
  • Chris Hani West - Lady Frere ICT Centre 
  • Chris Hani East - Ngcobo Resource Centre 
  • Joe Gqabi - Sterkspruit ICT Centre – Bensonvale College
  • Sarah Baartman - Graaff Reinet ICT Centre
The workshops aimed to introduce teachers to the Microsoft Educator Community and how this platform can be used to access anywhere, anytime professional development. Teachers were also shown some of the features of their Windows 10 laptops and learnt to navigate around their Office 365 accounts. It is hoped that having had some introductory training, that teachers will become more confident about using their devices, and that they will seek out additional online professional development that best suits their needs as teachers. 


Almost every trainer reported that their major challenge was connectivity. This was unfortunate, but as it was expected given the rural venues, delegates were able to use an offline version of the ICT Skills for Teachers course. At most venues a technical support official was available for at least some sessions, and most sessions were attended by an eLearning official. This meant that questions around the devices and O365 accounts could be addressed by an official with knowledge of these.

Delegates were asked to list their top three learning from the workshop. This Word Cloud summarizes their responses. On the whole teachers who attended these workshops appeared to be making use of their Windows devices, and we trust that from the additional training and support they received at these sessions that they will now make even better use of their laptops and O365 accounts.


This project underscores the importance of professional development as part of any device roll out to ensure that teachers actually make use of the equipment and tools they have been given. Ideally training should not be a once off event but rather part of an ongoing intervention with continuous support and monitoring. We hope that teachers will continue to complete online courses through the Microsoft Educator Community and that the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning officials will continue to provide additional training. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Building Digital Skills among displaced teachers in the Eastern Cape

SchoolNet SA was commissioned by Microsoft to develop the digital skills of displaced teachers in the Eastern Cape. Specifically, it was hoped that these displaced teachers could assist the Eastern Cape Department of Education's eLearning team with training teachers in the province to make better use of Microsoft tools and their Windows 10 devices. The capacity building sessions for 52 displaced teachers took place between 27 and 31 May 2018 at the East London Leadership Institute in East London.


The capacity building session kicked off with a welcome from Nadine Pote (Chief Director: Teacher Development and Learning Institutions Eastern Cape Department of Education) and Dr Drik Greeff (Chief Education Specialist at Eastern Cape Department of Education).  Ms Pote explained that the capacity building session was part of the larger implementation of the National Department of Education’s strategy for e-Education as well as the province’s prioritization of teacher development as support to district eLearning and curriculum personnel.


After the initial kick-off session, the educators were split into two groups and relocated to two computer labs. The educators then worked with SchoolNet SA facilitators (Busisiwe Mdlankomo, Megan Rademeyer, Sandile Maliwa and Hlengiwe Mfeka) to complete a range of activities designed to familiarize the group with O365 and the Windows 10 laptops that many Eastern Cape teachers have been equipped with. Educators registered on the Microsoft Educator Community and were shown how to use this portal to access the Digital Skills for Teachers courses that had been uploaded to the platform as part of this project. The educators also worked through a range of scenarios in the ICT Skills for Teachers course.


Whilst the instructional design of the ICT Skills for Teachers course allows teachers to select scenarios based on artefacts they wish to create, as this was a capacity building session we asked participants to aim to produce at least one Word, one Excel and one PowerPoint artefact across the four days of training so that the SchoolNet SA team could assess their competence in using the most commonly used Microsoft O365 apps. The educators who had the most advanced digital skills assisted the other educators to complete the activities and also presented their artefacts during the showcase event - demonstrating that they had the potential to be facilitators for this course.


One of the highlights of the workshop was a Socrative quiz designed to test the delegate's knowledge of the features of a Windows 10 laptop. This activity also provided a good opportunity to talk about how using online quizzes can be an engaging way to provide a gamification component within a lesson. Sandile Maliwa led a session for each group in which he demonstrated how to navigate using some of the features of Windows 10.


Participants completed an activity in which they provided their tips for keeping a Windows 10 device safe as part of a collaborative PowerPoint document. The objectives of this activity was twofold – it got groups of participants discussing how to care for their devices whilst also demonstrating how collaborative documents work.

The capacity session was very well received by delegates, who all noted that their digital skills had improved as a result of the professional development. The facilitators remarked that the displaced teachers were "eager to learn and everyone participated in the presentations and showed engagement in the different sessions". Unfortunately a number of the delegates who attended this workshop had very basic computer skills, and the four days of capacity building was insufficient to bring them up to the level of being trainers. Nonetheless, a number of displaced teachers were identified as having strong potential and we are sure that they will be a valuable source of assistance to the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning team as they continue to roll out their training plan.

Friday, 1 June 2018

CuriosITy Workshops get Grade 11 Girls using Digital Tools

The annual CuriosITy dinner - which was hosted by Bresica House School on 30 May 2018 - gives grade 11 girls who are taking either CAT or IT an opportunity to network with women in the IT industry. This year, a series of hands-on workshops took place prior to the dinner to provide the girls, and their teachers, with an opportunity to try out a range of digital tools.


174 girls and their 50 teachers who attended the workshops were each able to select three 40 minute sessions from the following options:
  • Explore Merge cubes, Metaverse and Expeditions 
  • VJ Robotics STEAM activity 
  • Get going with an Hour of Code 
  • Explore Sphero 
  • MicroBits 
  • Lego Mindstorms 
  • Lego WeDo 
  • Access Microsoft software for Mahala! 
  • Get Scratching 
  • Green Screen 
These short workshops were just long enough to expose teachers and learners to a range of new tools and to whet their appetites for exploring technology and coding beyond what is included in the school curriculum.


As part of the Microsoft #YouthSpark project, which aims to introduce basic computer science into more schools, Megan Rademeyer of SchoolNet SA offered the Hour of Code as one of the CuriosITy sessions. These workshops proved to be very popular with learners and teachers who are taking CAT as a subject, but whose schools do not offer IT. Having seen how fun it is to complete simple coding activities, learners were eager to run Hour of Code sessions at their schools. Teachers from schools that offer IT noted that the Hour of Code could be used to encourage more grade 9 learners to consider taking IT as a subject for matric.


Nomusa Keninda and Ntombizodwa Gininda, representing the Mpumalanga ICT Club, presented workshops that introduced learners and teachers to Scratch programming. This simple, free tool is another great way of introducing the basics of coding to young learners, and we trust that many teachers will use this simple form of programming to promote computer science at their schools.


Bonolo Sedupane of Microsoft SA showed girls and their teachers how to register for Mahala Microsoft accounts. The girls were excited to know that they can get free access to Microsoft software, a Microsoft email account and online storage and said that they would be sure to also get their friends connected. Teachers from schools that have not signed up for O365 for the whole school were interested to learn of another option that they could use for their learners to access software.

Through the Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark Grant, SchoolNet SA was able to sponsor four girls and their teachers from ten under-resourced schools to attend the CuriosITy workshop and dinner. We know that the opportunity to try out a range of tools, and to get excited about using new technologies will go a long way towards ensuring that more girls with an interest in technology consider pursuing careers in STEM subjects.