Friday, 27 July 2018

Access free productivity tool training from ThintiMillion

Many employers expect employees to have some basic knowledge of Word, PowerPoint and Excel, yet many school leavers have not had an opportunity to acquire these skills. Microsoft, in partnership with the Gauteng Department of eGovernment, is on a mission to train one million young people with basic Microsoft Office skills to increase their chances of finding employment and to upskill workers and learners.

In a previous post we encouraged youth to access ThintiMillion and to complete the free online training - however many young people don't have access to computers and can't easily get to a Gauteng library or community centre where they can complete the course at no cost. To spread the reach of ThintiMillion, Microsoft recently released an app version of the materials so that youth with no access to a computer can still learn more about basic productivity tools using a smart phone.

If you are interested in boosting your own digital skills or looking for a way to get a Microsoft branded certificate that certifies you have basic computer skills, download the ThintiMillion app from the Google Playstore to try out the materials on an Android phone. As a teacher, you may also want to encourage your learners to work thorough the materials in their computer literacy lessons so that they will have proof of basic computer skills before heading for the workplace or tertiary institutions.

Whilst the ThintiMillion app and training materials provide a good introduction to key productivity programmes, and let users take a quiz and print a certificate to show that they know the basics, they do not actually provide opportunities to use Word, PowerPoint or Excel. The best way to master using digital tools is to actually use them - so in addition to downloading the app, please encourage young people to register for Mahala Microsoft Office and register for a free Microsoft account if you are a teacher. We then hope that you will practice using the productivity tools to type documents that you may need. You can find out more about this in our previous post

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Elfas Mcloud - Bringing hope to Africa through digital access

As a computer scientist, pastor and human rights activist, Elfas Mcloud Zadzagomo Shangwa’s passion is ensuring that every village girl in Africa connected to the internet. He believes that access to the internet will help girls to combat challenges that they face as a result of a lack of information.

Elfas, who holds a diploma in Computer Science, currently heads up the ICT program at Step Ahead Primary School, where SchoolNet SA recently ran a YouthSpark workshop on basic coding skills. As a computer technician, who received training in IT in Zimbabwe and China, Elfas offered his services after his wife who is a teacher at Step Ahead noted that the school was losing learners to schools that offered computer training.

Elfas was appointed to set up a computer lab and to design a digital learning programme. His first task was to set up a website and Facebook page for the school to raise its public profile. He then devised a plan to turn an empty room into a computer lab, equipped with forty computers that he sourced, installed and connected. Whilst the lab is now equipped and functional, technical trouble shooting, managing the school’s social media platforms, keeping records of equipment and maintaining the security of the school computer lab still keep Elfas very busy.

In addition to maintaining the computer lab – Elfas ensures that the equipment is well used. Elfas teaches approximately four hundred learners between grades 4 to 9 computer skills lessons every week, using curriculum that includes some of the modules covered on the YouthSpark course, including the Hour of Code and Computational Thinking. He also hosts three or four classes of foundation phase learners per week who use the computers and watch videos in the lab. Elfas also assists up to fifty learners per day to use the computers to do research. This includes helping them to connect to the Wi-Fi, monitoring the websites they are visiting and helping to develop good searching skills. 

In 2017, Elfas attended the SchoolNet SA ICT in the Classroom conference held at Brescia House School. He says “after attending the SchoolNet conference I came back and started training thirty teachers on how to integrate ICTs into their teaching areas. This task was like climbing Mount Everest as twenty five teachers at school did not have any computers or typing skills”.

Elfas says that getting the school leaders to agree to connect the lab to the internet was a mammoth task but he knew that it would expand the possibilities for learners at his rural Eastern Cape school. After success with a few connected devices on a single Cell C line, the school leaders saw a need for more. “I pushed her to see the benefits, I am a campaigner when I want things done, I push for results.”

LCom, an internet service provider based in Queenstown installed Wifi across the school, however this led to a challenge of additional traffic on the limited bandwidth when the school became a Cyber Zone. Fearing that the SchoolNet SA YouthSpark training which had been scheduled for the July school holidays would not have adequate bandwidth, Elfas pushed the service provider to come up with a better solution. This is now in place and the school not only provides internet access to the school community but is also able to support the school’s digital learning programme.

Whilst Elfas is happy to see Step Ahead Primary and the community it serves making effective use of digital tools, his dream remains to see each school connected and girl children connected to the digital world. Elfas is the founder and chairperson of the New Hope Foundation Africa. This organisation has physical offices in Zimbabwe and works across five other African countries with the objective of offereing hope to girl children in African villages. Elfas admits, “it’s a big vision, but I am a man on a mission”. Having seen Elfas in action in terms of asking for a YouthSpark workshop for Step Ahead, ensuring its success and then planning for learners to also benefit, we have confidence that he will be able to make great strides towards his goal.

"I want to see every child getting connected and being exposed to the digital world. This can help them to build their community economies and become major players in the governance of their countries. My goal is to source fishing materials and to teach them to fish to make Africa Great" says Elfas.

Friday, 20 July 2018

How do you measure up against the Framework for Digital Learning?

SchoolNet SA staff recently participated in a workshop for SACE endorsed training providers that offer courses in digital learning to teachers. The intention of this workshop was to raise awareness of the Department of Basic Education's Professional Framework for Digital Learning and to ensure that courses being offered to teachers align to the Framework. Whilst teachers are expected to complete professional development activities as part of their SACE registration, ideally these activities should be aligned to a teacher's own professional needs and growth areas.

We would encourage teachers to complete the diagnostic self-assessment based on the digital learning competencies described in the Framework. This tool will allow you to identify your relative strengths and areas in which you can aim to develop in professionally. Once you have determined which competencies you would like to focus on, the tool will guide you to plan a personal pathway of learning based on your immediate needs and interests.

For example, one teacher who completed the online self-assessment is currently at the A4 level. This indicates that her teaching methods are probably quite teacher and/or device-centred but because she has excellent access to digital tools and resources, she is encouraged to explore more learner-centred teaching methods. The self assessment tool indicates that she should consider B4 to C4 as her learning pathway. 

Whilst there is a realization that teachers with access to a wider range of digital tools and learner devices will be able to make more extensive use of digital tools than teachers with limited resources, all teachers can aim to develop professionally within their contexts, using the resources they have available. As there is a range of courses tagged to each of the competencies, it is easy for a teacher to see which courses may develop the competency he/she wants to work on that would work well in his/her context.

SchoolNet SA is proud to have a range of courses that we have either developed or are able to facilitate, listed in the offerings on the diagnostic self-assessment tool. For example, our Change Leadership for ICT Integration course would be a good choice for a teacher wanting to develop the competency focused on accepting "responsibility when planning and implementing digital learning" or the Microsoft Peer Coaching course, which we can facilitate, would be an excellent choice for teachers aiming to "Initiate peer support and collaborative, work-place learning".

Whilst there is a cost for some of the suggested courses, and schools or districts may not be able to fund courses unless enough teachers were interested in developing a specific competency, some of the courses suggested are available for free, self-study by teachers. For example, a range of courses available through the Microsoft Educator Community are listed which any teacher can do at no cost, simply by joining the platform. 

We would encourage individual teachers to determine their own plan for professional growth, and to commit to completing courses that will help them to develop their competencies. School leaders may want to encourage all their teachers to complete the diagnostic self-assessment and to then offer a couple of courses for staff that address competencies that a number of people would like to develop.

Read more about the Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning.

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  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 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.