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. 

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