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 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 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 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. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

YouthSpark training hits Cape Town

SchoolNet SA recently offered five introductory #YouthSpark computer science workshops to teachers from schools in the Western Cape, facilitated by Charmaine Roynon - an educational consultant with a passion for getting teachers using digital tools to enhance teaching and learning. The aim of these workshops was to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to introduce learners to basic coding using free tools and resources. The courses were widely advertised on SchoolNet SA social media, and teachers from under-resourced schools were invited to attend one of the Saturday sessions.

The first of these workshops took place at Portia Primary School in Landsdowne on 4th of August 2018. This school was suggested to us by Gail Valentyn of the Metro Central Education District as a school that had access to computers, and passionate staff who would be interested in attending a workshop. Not only did teachers from Portia attend, but teachers from neighbouring schools also joined the session.

Charmaine reported that some of the teachers found the Hour of Code Minecraft activity challenging. "I let them struggle with minimum input from me. It was great to see how they helped each other. Once they had achieved success, they agreed that it is good to let children struggle and persevere as well as help each other." 

In our efforts to take YouthSpark training to underserved areas, the next two workshops took place on 11 and 18 August 2018 at the I Can Centre in Elsies River. This well-resourced community centre caters to the IT needs of people in the area and offers a range of courses to upskill people to use digital tools. The second two workshops took place at the Cape Town Science Centre in Observatory on 25 August and 1 September 2018. The Cape Town Science Centre is a world of discovery under one roof. It also hosts a Microsoft Classroom of the Future – an interactive, hands-on discovery area - and a fully equipped Microsoft IT Centre.

All workshops followed a similar program, beginning with an introductory video clip on computational thinking and a discussion about why it is worth introducing learners to coding - even if, or especially if, information Technology or Computer Applications Technology are not offered as school subjects. Teachers then learnt more about the four cornerstones of computational thinking, namely, decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithmic design as well as the benefits of coding. 

To encourage teachers to carry on learning after the workshops, participants registered on the Microsoft Educator Community and explored the various courses and resources on offer. In particular, teachers were encouraged to bookmark the Computational Thinking and Facilitating an Hour of Code courses so that they would be able to earn their badges for completing these courses.

A highlight of the workshops was experiencing an “Hour of Code” whilst working through the Minecraft themed tutorials. For many teachers, this was their first opportunity to try coding, and according to their facilitator, Charmaine Roynon “Some found it challenging until they grasped what to do and then there was no stopping them!”. Once getting to the end of the tutorial, participants shared their “Hour of Code” certificates on social media to let their friends and colleagues know that they had mastered basic coding. 

After lunch participants learnt more about Physical Computing and explored coding using the virtual Microbit. All teachers were able to complete the Getting Started levels and according to Charmaine “they were really getting the hang of coding and proceeded to tackle some of the tasks in the project section. It was most gratifying to see how the confidence grew in such a short space of time”.

The day ended with participants earning badges on the Microsoft Educator Community for “Getting to know Minecraft” and the “Computer Science Deep Dive”, and with more than 1 000 points each, all left as Microsoft Innovative Educators. 

Many of the teachers who attended these workshops were a bit nervous about coding, with few having tried coding before. Nonetheless, they participated enthusiastically and left with a range of YouthSpark resources, computational thinking resources and some ideas for running “unplugged” activities that teach basic coding skills. We look forward to hearing how the teachers who attended these sessions use some of these resources to give their learners a taste of computer science. If you missed the face-to-face workshops but are keen to introduce your learners to basic computer science, complete the online courses mentioned in this post and explore the tools on your own.