Thursday, 19 September 2019

Community Support for Amathole Teacher Futures School

Elukhanyisweni Secondary School, situated in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape, is one of the schools participating in the Commonwealth of Learning Teacher Futures programme. The programme aims to support teachers in developing digital skills and creating communities of practice so that they can provide better teaching and learning opportunities for rural learners.

Whilst Elukhanyisweni had computers and received a donation of tablets from MTN, the school has been burgled a number of times and a lot of the digital tools have been stolen.  At the Change Leadership for Digital Learning course, facilitated by SchoolNet SA, Mr Ayanda Oliphant, principal of the school and Ms NomaLungisa Maxengana, Head of Department reported that the burglaries have been worrying and demotivating for both teachers and learners. They were advised that getting the support of the community for the school's vision may help to keep the school's equipment safe.

On 16 September 2019, Mr Oliphant and Ms Maxengana attended a community executive meeting and appealed for community assistance in preventing burglaries at their school. In a moving speech (that can be viewed here) Nomalungisa explained that the school aims to produce learners who are competent globally, and learners who will not look down upon themselves because they are products of a village school. She noted that "we don’t wish our learners to have an inferiority complex when among their Johannesburg and American counterparts."

Maxengana informed the meeting about the Teacher Futures programme facilitated by SchoolNet explaining that "SchoolNet started by training a few teachers in our school, then we will train our colleagues, so that at the end of the day we all teach the modern way, infusing technology in our teaching." The community agreed with the vision shared by Maxengana that "teaching with technology will not only benefit learners, but the whole Msobomvu community will be enlightened". 

After getting the buy-in of the group the school leaders said that the success of the programme would require community cooperation to make sure that the sponsored technology is valued and protected for the whole school community to benefit. The community was deeply moved by her speech and unanimously voiced their willingness to prioritize ensuring the security of the school. Furthermore, the provincial Department of Education plans to fence the school.

Hlengiwe Mfeka, who manages the Teacher Future programme for SchoolNet SA, says that Mr Oliphant and Ms Nomalungisa from Elukhanyisweni Secondary school have consistently attended all scheduled workshops. They were one of the first schools to submit the required documents to earn various badges and they try their best to implement what's been learnt in the workshops. These school leaders also share their best practices and learnings with the rest of the Teacher Futures Community of Practice via the project WhatsApp group. We are hopeful that now that the community knows more about the vision of the school that they will help to protect the digital tools so that they can be fully used to benefit teaching and learning. 

Commonwealth of Learning Teacher Futures: Success Stories from Amathole

SchoolNet SA has been working with teachers and school leaders from ten schools in the Amathole District in the Eastern Cape as part of the Commonwealth of Learning Teacher Futures programme. Teacher Futures strives to develop teaching and learning communities of practice (COP) for the purpose of scaling up in-service teachers' digital knowledge and skills and to assist them in providing quality and sustainable education in the Eastern Cape schools.

With these goal in mind, teachers from the participating schools have attended the following professional development workshops offered by SchoolNet SA facilitators:

  • Learning Design Workshop
  • Change Leadership for Digital Learning
  • Digital Literacy and Initiating Community of Practice
  • Using Digital Resources in the Classroom

We were delighted to hear from Phelela Mqhiki, a teacher from Nzululwazi High School and Charmaine Nel, a Head of Department from Ntabenkonyana High School who consistently attended the workshops who shared some of their experiences and the benefits of participating in the Teacher Futures project. (Please click on the teacher's names to see the videos that they shared).

Community of Practice at Ntabenkonyana

Charmaine reported that after ten teachers from her school attended the Digital Literacy workshop she saw a lot of changes, noting, that as HODs "we expect teachers to submit their work typed.... we expect them to be more professional. And I must admit that now they are very professional". 

The Change Leadership course has also bought about changes such as "the school's new vision also includes technology now whereas in the past it was silent when it comes to technology". Charmaine notes that,  "when it comes to lesson assessment and lesson planning there is a big change. Because in lesson plans we now incorporate visuals that we download from different apps. The lesson becomes more stimulating and the learners enjoy them more." 

Better digital literacy skills have also made it easier for teachers to join and actively participate in their community of practice. Charmaine says that "when it comes to sharing information we do that with some teachers in the neighborhood. Almost all of us have laptops so it becomes easy to share, comment and edit information that you have presented to them. That is also quite exciting. You don't have to travel to the next school to get information - we just share that on our laptops. Even when it comes to saving work. It doesn't get lost easily now that we are using Google Drive." 

Nzululwazi prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Phelela Mqhiki says that the most valuable and positive workshop for her was Using Digital Resources in the Classroom course, as she notes that "in the Eastern Cape we are very rural and we have been using chalk in our classrooms". She said that the workshop helped her and her colleagues to see how the computers can be used in their classrooms and how to go about introducing learners to the technology. Phelela believes that the workshops will help them to be ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. She regards herself as fortunate among teachers in the Eastern Cape because now her classroom performance is improved and her learners are also doing better.  

As the Teacher Futures project continues we look forward to hearing more about how teachers and school leaders are applying what they are learning to developing their community of practice and sharing more ideas and resources for improving teaching and learning at the participating schools. 

Friday, 16 August 2019

Agnes Rasesemola - Spreading the reach of the SchoolNet Digital Learning Conference

The SchoolNet SA Digital Learning conference attracted almost 500 teachers who enjoyed three days of networking and learning new skills and tools for utilizing digital resources in their classrooms. We often wonder what ideas teachers implement after they have attended a conference; whether they pursue any conference connections; and the extent to which they share what they have learnt with colleagues.

We were delighted to hear from Agnes Rasesemola, the principal of Sunrise View Secondary in Rustenburg, NorthWest who reported on what she has done to make use of digital tools since the conference and who is growing from strength to strength as a facilitator.

Agnes has run three professional development workshops for her colleagues since attending the conference. She is also holding weekly training sessions for her circuit manager and his PA, and she has trained other principals in her circuit.

Agnes says, "My target for the year is to train more than 400 educators. I also trained my husband who is also a High School Principal and he is the one who is now training me with coding and Minecraft badges. I encouraged him to also train his staff on ICT and digital literacy."

Agnes was the National Winner of the National Teaching Awards in the category "Excellence in Secondary Leadership" 2017/2018. She attended the NTA advocacy session as a former NTA winner and also served on the NTA provincial adjudication panel in 2019. 

Agnes continues to show exemplary leadership at her school by making use of digital resources as far as possible and encouraging others to do the same. Sunrise View Secondary School has set up a website, and Agnes is the administrator of her school's Facebook account. Agnes reports that her school governing body has agreed to buy new laptops for half of the staff and they will purchase the remainder of the laptops at the beginning of 2020 to ensure that staff have access to digital tools.

Agnes was encouraged to register for a Skype account by Phuti Ragophala during the SchoolNet SA conference, and her activity map shows that she has already participated in 37 Skype in the Classroom activities. Agnes has also encouraged her teachers to make use of Skype in the Classroom for learning without borders.

All 36 teachers at Sunrise View Secondary School have joined the Microsoft Educator Community so that they can access free online courses and resources. Agnes has already earned 97 badges on the Microsoft Educator Community for the online courses and activities she has completed, and has also earned her trainer badge. Agnes says, "I’m so excited by the rapid migration to the 21st century school".

Agnes met SchoollNet SA's executive director Omashani Naidoo at the conference when Omashani ran a training of trainers session. They have stayed in touch since the conference, and Omashani has continued to encourage Agnes and to answer her questions. Omashani encouraged Agnes to share her learning with she school's management team and ICT committees at Sunrise View Secondary School and to offer professional development workshops in her community.

Teachers and school leaders like Agnes are the reason why we believe that digital learning has the power to be a catalyst for change. If you attended the SchoolNet SA conference, and are using the inspiration, network and ideas that it sparked to make a difference in your classroom, school or community please share your story with us. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

ISPA SuperTeacher Finalists recognized for outstanding uses of technology to enhance education

Ten teachers have been selected as finalists in the Internet Service Providers Association’s (ISPA) SuperTeacher Competition based on a project or lesson that showcases their skills in using digital tools to enhance classroom teaching.

Anel Flack
The following finalists, representing six different provinces, will travel to Johannesburg to be part of iWeek, the Internet industry conference and exhibition which is taking place at the Indaba hotel from 26 - 28 August 2019: 
  • Louise Fullard of Hoerskool Bergvlam - Mpumalanga
  • Fiona Beal of The Rock Academy - Western Cape
  • Peggy Jona of Bakuba Primary - Eastern Cape
  • Lyneth Crighton of Brescia House School - Gauteng
  • Anel Flack of Hoerskool Standerton - Mpumalanga
  • Mabore Lekalakala of Mapudithomo Primary - Limpopo
  • Lady Hadio Mei of Moedi Secondary - Northern Cape
  • Matthew Hains of Saheti Secondary - Gauteng
  • Dimakatso Sefora of Saron Primary - NorthWest
  • Leanne Bishop of Grantleigh School - Eastern Cape
Dimekatso Sefora
The ISPA SuperTeachers competition is managed by the Digital Education Institute (DEI), a non-profit organisation, and is one of South Africa's longest running ICT in education competitions. SchoolNet SA has been proud to have Megan Rademeyer serve on the judging panel for this competition for many years and we are delighted to see a number of teachers who we have worked with over the years, or teachers who have presented at our conferences, being recognized as finalists. 

Lady Hadio Mei
Other SuperTeachers judges include Sarah-Jane Capazario and Dorcas Tabane (ISPA), Shadi Mathosa (ICT in education specialist), Professor Mthulisi Velempini (University of Limpopo), Deon van Vuuren (Branch Co-ordinator for Curriculum at Mpumalanga Provincial Education Department), Moloko Malahlela (Chief Education specialist - Gauteng) and Gerald Roos (Western Cape - Deputy Director in the Directorate: LTSM Policy Development and Innovation).

Fiona Beal
The standard of entries was particularly high this year, with some previous ISPA SuperTeachers winners and finalists submitting an even more creative lesson idea than they submitted in previous years. “The judges have roundly-applauded the talent that has presented itself for adjudication at this year’s ISPA SuperTeacher of the Year awards,” says Milford Malunga of the Digital Education Institute (DEI).

Leanne Bishop
Whilst we look forward to seeing who is announced as the SuperTeacher of the year on 26 August 2019, all ten finalists have reason to be proud of the creative ways that they have used technology as tools of teaching and learning. We know that they are looking forward to being part of iWeek, meeting with delegates from the IT industry and most importantly networking among themselves to each go back to school armed with new ideas. 

Friday, 9 August 2019

Commonwealth of Learning Teacher Futures - Success story from the Eastern Cape

SchoolNet SA is currently running a Commonwealth of Learning Teachers Future project in conjunction with the University of Fort Hare. The programme is aimed at developing digital learning among 10 schools in the Amatole District of the Eastern Cape.  The schools are in the same district as the University of Fort Hare where lecturers in the Faculty of Education are also participating in the Teacher Futures Programme with the intention of improving their digital learning expertise. 

To date teachers have attended a digital skills course and a course aimed at helping them to make effective use of digital resources in the classroom. While the programme aims to support 100 teachers, and their participation in a community of practice, the individual stories of some of the participants illustrate the power of the Teacher Futures to transform education. Here is an example of one teacher who has embraced the opportunity to improve her digital skills to enhance teaching and learning.

Nomalungisa Maxengana - An early digital resources adopter

Nomalungisa Maxengana teaches English and History at Elukhanyisweni High School, located in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. She also serves as the head of department for Languages and Social Sciences. She is an older teacher who is readily adapting to new pedagogies. Having been born, bred and schooled in the village of Peddle in the Eastern Cape, she is a village girl and proud of it. 

Elukhanyisweni High School is one of the ten project schools in the ‘Teacher Futures’ programme funded by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The programme has made it possible for Nomalungisa to participate in a range of professional development courses. 

“I knew next to nothing about digital learning skills at the start of the programme, apart from typing on my laptop, attaching documents and sending e-mail attachments,” Nomalungisa says. She also recalls that her sons used to tease her about buying smart phones that she doesn’t know how to use. However, Nomalungisa credits the Teacher Futures programme for motivating her to master technology and says that she is now determined not to lag behind. Since the inception of the project, she is more focused on infusing technologies in her teaching and learning to prove that “even old ladies can move with the times when it comes to technology”. 

Whilst she is enthusiastic about applying her learnings, Nomalungisa notes that there have been challenges which require teachers to change their mindset and to work with the resources that are accessible to them. For example, Elukhanyisweni High School was burgled, and all the learner tablets donated by MTN and Vodacom were stolen. As a result of this, teachers only have access to their own laptops for planning and executing lessons. Another challenge is that there is only one data projector at the school, which limits the extent to which teachers can integrate technology. This resource must therefore be used by the teachers in rotation.

At a recent Change Leadership workshop focusing on the culture of collaboration in the workplace, Nomalungisa learnt how to download YouTube videos and create podcasts. Back at school, she used her new skills to create and share podcasts to prepare learners for exams over the weekend. She also downloaded and shared appropriate videos via WhatsApp, a messaging platform, as learners often do not have access to connectivity to search for subject-specific videos. 

“I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the learners in their response to the resources and this positive response prompted me to encourage my colleagues to create learner subject groups on to collaborate among themselves while sharing information,” she says.

Although learners enjoy listening to voice notes and watching videos, there have been challenges including limited access to smartphones. As a solution to this challenge, Nomalungisa bought a set of speakers so that more learners can listen to voice notes while in class. She also encourages learners to share phones to view videos. The messaging platform has had the positive outcome of providing an easy way to motivate learners and to encourage them to participate in knowledge sharing. 

Nomalungisa is, indeed, an inspiration to her colleagues, especially those who resisted technology and were happy with their old ways of doing things. She is a Change Leadership pioneer, an implementer and a credit to the Teacher Futures programme that champions school-based teacher professional development.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Are your learners ready for the Programming Olympiad?

If you haven't already done so, please enter your IT learners with a flair for programming in the Programming Olympiad, taking place between 29 July and 2 August 2019.  It is designed to challenge learners who can use a programming language like Scratch, Python, Java, C++ or Delphi. Whilst individual learners can enter, entire classes are encouraged to take part.

How does the Programming Olympiad work?

In the first round of the challenge, participants have to solve a number of problems using the programming language of their choice. The top 20% of those participating in Round 1 will be invited to take part in Round 2 where the questions become a lot harder. Round 2 problems also make use of common algorithms but include algorithms for more advanced searching, such as breadth-first and depth-first searches, and dynamic programming.

What languages can be used?

All the Round 2 problems can be answered using C++, Java, Pascal and Python. They can, of course, also be answered using Delphi and the various Java IDEs such as Netbeans. There is only one paper for all age groups, with questions available in English and Afrikaans.

What are the prizes?

Selected participants are entered into the International Olympiad in Informatics. Top learners are recognized by the Programming Olympiad, and of course all participants benefit from being exposed to fun and challenging programming opportunities.

Who marks the answers?

Round 2 is going to be marked automatically by an program evaluator.

Where can teachers and learners access resources that will assist with programming? 

It is worth investigating the Goalkicker site that contains free e-books on a variety of different programming languages. Encourage those of your learners that could get into Round 2 to work on the Programming Olympiad site and to try solve the problems. Teachers may also want to use some of the problems as one-off practical questions for their classes. 

How do you register? 

You can still register learners to participate in the 2019 Computer Programming Olympiad here 
If you aren't ready for the Programming Olympiad just yet, it is worth investigating the Talent Search offered by the Computer Olympiad to develop computational thinking skills in your learners.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Access the resources for the SchoolNet SA 2019 Digital Learning Conference

The Royal Bafokeng Institute and the Lebone II College, in partnership with NorthWest Department of Basic Education, hosted the SchoolNet SA 2019 Digital Learning Conference between 26 and 28 June 2019. Four hundred and sixty eight delegates attended the conference, including teachers with a passion for digital learning, ICT coordinators and national and provincial eLearning officials.

Conference attendees enjoyed three days of professional development aligned to the following conference themes: Digital Resources in the Classroom; Cultivating Creativity; Leadership in Digital Education; Gaming, Coding and Makerspaces and eAssessment Strategies and Tools.

We are grateful for contributions from Microsoft Philanthropies and Telkom, whose sponsorship towards the conference made it possible for more teachers from under-resourced schools to attend. We also wish to thank Lego Foundation for sponsoring keynote speaker Ollie Bray to present a range of workshops on Learning Through Play.

Read more about the conference in the SchoolNet SA Digital Learning Conference – Report and access the conference OneNote and session resources to learn more about individual sessions.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Try out Minecraft: Education Edition for Game-Based Learning

Play is a natural human instinct; where we learn communication, interpersonal skills, emotional control, resiliency and persistence, and even the basics of engineering. Game-based learning (GBL) refers to the use of games or game principles to affect positive learning outcomes. Games can offer an engaging, immersive environment for learners to experiment, try and solve challenges, and collaborate with peers in a virtual world.

Many learners are already playing Minecraft, and more and more teachers are using the Minecraft in Education Edition for game-based learning activities, to complement their STEM curriculum, hone learners coding skills and so much more. If you would like to try out Minecraft Education Edition in your classroom, why not access the trial version for free here. All users with a valid Office 365 account can access the trial version with a limited number of logins before you need to subscribe.
If your learners don't already have Office 365 accounts, encourage them to access a Mahala account for free. Mahala is available to South African youth between the ages of 8 to 24 and can be used to  access free Office 365 and the Minecraft Education. Sign up here.

If you are already using Minecraft Education Edition, or if you want to try out a fun lesson using your trial version, access the Subject Kits with pre-built Minecraft worlds and lessons. All subjects are covered from STEM to Languages and the Arts. Access the subject kits here.

Science teachers in particular are encouraged to try out the chemistry experiments in a fail-safe, simulated environment by combining elements into useful compounds and exploring all the elements of the Periodic Table. Access these resources here

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Omshani Naidoo is SchoolNet SA's new Executive Director

Congratulations to Omashani Naidoo on her recent appointment as SchoolNet SA’s Executive Director. Omashani has been an integral part of SchoolNet for the past twelve years and we wish her well in her new role. We have faith that Omashani will continue to build on the successes and history of SchoolNet SA, taking on new challenges and adding her own flair to the organisation. SchoolNet SA’s outgoing Executive Director, Janet Thomson, will remain part of the SchoolNet SA family as a member of the Board. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Janet for her leadership and guidance of SchoolNet SA for the past fourteen years.

Anyone who has had any association with SchoolNet SA over the past decade is sure to already know Omashani. She has represented SchoolNet SA in many capacities; has been an active thought-leader in discussions around technology in education; and has trained and mentored many teachers, school leaders, ICT officials over the years. Here is Omashani's full biography:

Omashani Naidoo

Ms Omashani Naidoo is a qualified, Mathematics and Computer Studies teachers and holds an Honours Degree in Education, Training and Development is currently studying her Masters’ Degree in ICTs in Education.

She started her career as a teacher at Radley College and later Waverley Girls High (JHB). She then became part of the subject matter experts’ team at Mindset network, developed their Grade 10 Information Technology materials for print, video and computer-based multimedia and presented Mathematics lessons on the Mindset Learn channel.

In 2007, she started working at SchoolNet SA, and grew into the role of Operations Manager whose responsibilities included management of project budgets as well as monitoring and evaluating training and consultant trainers across the country. This role expanded to seeking new business relationships and projects, maintaining SchoolNet's presence at National and Provincial events and representing SchoolNet at strategic, thought leadership discussions and policy development. She is a master trainer for Microsoft, Google Education, Adobe and Intel, is the IEARN Country Coordinator and an inaugural Global Intel Visionary.

She has vast experience in the implementation of ICT projects both nationally and provincially, which ensures a strategic skillset that balances practice with sound technological, pedagogical and content knowledge of ICTs in Education. She uses a developmental and mentoring approach to growing staff as well as educators through the various SchoolNet programmes and looks forward to leading the organisation to new heights in her role as the Executive Director.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Calling all potential ISPA SuperTeachers

The ISPA SuperTeachers Competition, which is managed by the Digital Education Institute (DEI), is one of the longest-running annual competitions celebrating South African teachers who are using technology to enhance education.

According to project manager Milford Malunga at DEI, “The ISPA SuperTeacher of the Year Awards are well-respected in education circles, both for their longevity and for the huge role they have played in encouraging teachers to pioneer ICT.”

The SuperTeachers competition offers teachers an opportunity to showcase their skills in using digital resources to enhance classroom teaching and learning. This year, for the first time, competition entries will focus on applying cutting edge ICT thinking to design an innovative and effective ICT-infused lesson plan that is aligned to the curriculum.

Interested teachers need to register for the competition by Monday 13 May 2019 and then their final entry (their lesson plan) must be submitted by Friday 28 June 2019. Between registering and submitting their final entries, teachers will have access to a Facebook community of support to assist them with their entries.

This year prizes will be awarded in two categories in order to accommodate teachers who have access to different levels of resources at their schools. A prize is also being offered to a teacher who is able to recruit ten or more eligible colleagues to participate. Finalists will all be invited to attend iWeek - which is being held in Johannesburg in September, where the ISPA SuperTeacher of the Year Awards will be presented.

Visit to register for the competition and for more information.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Could one of your learners be the next Microsoft Office Champion?

Certiport, Microsoft and Netlearn are offering an opportunity for learners who are Microsoft Office whizzes to represent South Africa at the Certiport Office Specialist World Championship.

What is this competition about?

This global competition tests students' skills on Microsoft Office applications. The learners with the highest exam scores and the lowest exam-taking times in the national competition will be invited to represent their country and compete at the World Championships.

When and where do the World Championships take place?

New York, USA between 28 and 31 July 2019. 

How can learners participate?

To be eligible for possible selection, learners should pass one of the following Microsoft Office Specialist exams before 31 May 2019:

  • Word 2013 or 2016
  • Excel 2013 or 2016
  • PowerPoint 2013 or 2016 

To compete in the final round of the competition, learners must be enrolled in an approved, accredited learning institution and must be between the ages of 13 and 22 (as of 31 May 2019)

The learners who represent South Africa at the World Championships stand to win a range of prizes.

For more info and assistance see the Netlearn website and contact details in the image below:

Monday, 25 March 2019

A new computer lab - Lessons from New Nation School

In October 2018, the old Gauteng Online computer room at New Nation School in Vrededorp, Gauteng was equipped with Windows 10 laptops by Microsoft Philanthropies as part of a larger programme of support provided to the school by the Trevor Noah Foundation. SchoolNet SA has conducted the 'Change Leadership for Technology Integration' course for school leaders and the 'Microsoft in the Education' course for educators at the school and has also provided some onsite coaching and support.

Whilst the school has only had a well-equipped computer room for two terms, we've been pleased to see the progress that has been made to date.  This blogpost highlights some of the key successes and learnings of the New Nation journey so far.

Get the policies in place - before the equipment arrives

The delay in installing the computer equipment at New Nations proved to be a blessing in disguise. Through the Change Leadership course, school leaders had time to think about the changes that technology could bring to their school and how they would like to use the equipment as a catalyst for change. An ICT committee was appointed and a school ICT policy was drawn up prior to any devices being installed so that by the time the equipment arrived, teachers and learners knew what to expect and what the systems were for using the equipment. Learners were required to sign an acceptable use policy before being allowed to use the computers - establishing good norms for the equipment from the outset.

Establish a timetable for using the computers - across subjects

When a school has a well-equipped computer room, there is a temptation to use it to use it to offer Computer Applications Technology as a subject. Whilst CAT teaches valuable skills to learners who take the subject, it can mean that other learners don't get a chance to use the computers for other subjects, and learners in lower grades don't have a chance to build computer literacy skills. At New Nation, teachers were consulted about who wanted to use the computers for subject teaching and a timetable was drawn up to give teachers a regular slot in a week. Whilst learners may not use the computer room in every subject, once or twice a week learners will go to the lab to do research or to work on documents for one of their subjects. This is a great start, and hopefully as more teachers build confidence and skills they will ask for slots on the timetable for their subjects.

Have some free slots for the computer room

The New Nation School computer lab timetable ensures that teachers can plan their use of the computers in advance, but the lab is not timetabled for use every period. This means that when a teacher who does not have a regular slot wants to get his class to do an interactive quiz or wants to show a subject-related video he or she has been able to make arrangements to take his or her class to the lab. This arrangement helps to ensure that more teachers and subjects can make use of the lab - even if only occasionally.

Don't be scared of being shown up by the learners

The New Nation teachers had a go at doing the Hour of Code and loved it... but few of the teachers felt confident to run the activity for learners. At one of the coaching sessions, the SchoolNet SA coach helped co-teach a lesson with the teacher - which basically involved showing learners how to access the Minecraft themed tutorials and walking the learners through the first one or two puzzles. After a very brief introduction, learners were largely able to work by themselves, with some learners flying through the full challenge at record speed. After this successful session the Grade 12 First Additional Language teacher said he now felt confident enough to run a session on his own for his other classes and had realized that he does not need to be an expert at everything in the computer room - he just needs to provide the learners with an opportunity to develop their own skills.

Make the computers available for research and lesson preparation

When teachers have free periods at New Nation School, they can often be found in the computer room, working on one of the laptops. Sometimes, even when a class is in session, teachers will find a free computer and will carry on with their own work. It has been a joy to see teachers using Excel to capture their marks, Word to create worksheets and PowerPoint to prepare presentations. Teachers are able to informally help one another and the computer room coordinator assists if she is around, but most teachers are finding that as they use the computers more, their skills improve and they need to ask for help less often. We were excited when we heard that after one teacher used Socrative other teachers asked their colleague to show them how to make their own interactive quiz. This shows that teachers are willing to learn from one another, to seek support and to try new tools.

Use the cloud to have your own files on shared devices

Once teachers had access to school O365 accounts teachers were able to access their accounts from any device. This has been a big help as teachers can now work at any computer in the lab, or from their phones or personal computers at home.This has reduced the risk of viruses from teachers saving their files to flash drives and has also meant that sensitive documents like tests or mark-sheets are not being saved on the hard drives of laptops - where learners using the devices can access them.

Give learners access to computers 

The learners at New Nation are mostly orphans or vulnerable children, with many living in shelters in Johannesburg. This means that for the majority of learners, the school computers are the only devices that they currently have access to. The delight of getting to use the devices is captured in these reports on a Grade 10 Life Orientation lesson:

"My class made a chance to do research about the career that we want to be. I also got a chance to do research about mine. Also touching that laptop even though it was my first time its made me so happy."

"Today I had a nice or enjoyable experience. We went to the computer lab for the first time since grade 8. Yooo! I really enjoyed the computers with touch screens and that was my first time using them. I always hear about it but never experience it. We searched for our future careers and heard some advice from those people who are successful in those careers"

Next steps

Whilst we are excited by the progress made by teachers at New Nation School to integrate some digital tools into their lessons, we'd like to see learners having more access to the computers and more opportunities to build their digital skills. In the new term we hope to see learners getting O365 accounts which will enable them to save their work in their own space on the cloud and we also hope to encourage learners to complete the Digital Literacy Curriculum to further boost their skills.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

New Nation Teachers master some digital tools

In the first term of 2018, teachers from New Nation School in Vrededorp, Gauteng, enjoyed five afternoon workshop sessions on using a range of digital tools in the classroom. These workshops were sponsored by Microsoft Philanthropies in order to help staff to use technology as a catalyst for change at a school that largely provides education to orphans and vulnerable children. 

Below is a summary of what was covered at the workshops with links to some of the resources that other teachers may wish to use in their classrooms: 

Hour of Code to introduce learners to basic coding

During the first workshop, teachers learnt about the Hour of Code and worked their way through the Minecraft themed tutorials themselves. They discussed the importance of exposing youth to basic coding and some of the skills that this can develop. Teachers really enjoyed this activity and a number of teachers have since run sessions for their learners between the end of exams and school closing for the holidays.

Socrative to create an interactive quiz

In the second workshop, teachers completed a Socrative Space Race quiz and were shown how to set up their own online quizzes for when they take learners to the computer room. In addition to enjoying experiencing their own Space Race as participants, it was pleasing to hear that after this workshop a number of teachers used the tool in the lab and that learners enjoyed testing their knowledge in an engaging way.

Computer Olympiad Talent Search to build and test Computational Thinking Skills 

In the same workshop, teachers were introduced to the Computer Olympiad Talent Search computational thinking skills materials. Teachers had great fun working through some of the online puzzles and also learnt more about computational thinking and how important it is to develop these skills. We hope that New Nation teachers will go on to use the online past papers with learners, and to enter the most promising candidates into the Computer Olympiad Talent Search. 

Office 365 to access OneDrive and to send and receive email

Each New Nation School teacher was given a Microsoft Office 365 account which comes with a personalized email address that includes the school's name. Not only do these accounts help to professionalize email communication with colleagues and parents, they also come with OneDrive storage capacity and access to a range of online Microsoft tools including Sway and OneNote. In this workshop teachers were shown how to access their accounts, they sent and received email and compared working in the cloud to working on the offline Microsoft software.

Sway to create and share online presentations

Sway is an O365 tool that lets one create great presentations that look good on any device, that are easy to share, and that can be created collaboratively. In the fourth workshop, teachers were introduced to Sway and were given some time to create a Sway introducing themselves. Whilst teachers did not have ready access to their own photos on the shared devices, the lesson provided a good opportunity to talk about saving one’s own documents to the cloud. Teachers also discovered that they could use the cameras built into the laptops to take pictures of themselves. 

Microsoft Educator Community for additional online professional development

In the final workshop teachers joined the Microsoft Educator Community and were given a tour of some of the resources available in this portal. After completing their online profiles, teachers were given a code to earn a badge indicating that they had had introductory O365 training. We discussed how Skype in the Classroom could be a valuable tool for bringing guest speakers into the classroom and allowing learners to collaborate with classes from around the world. 

On 14 March 2019, certificates were presented to New Nation Teachers who attended the Microsoft in Education workshops. Whilst teachers always enjoy receiving a SACE endorsed certificate, the real value of this course has been the opportunity to learn about new tools which can be used to enhance classroom administration, to engage learners and to continue with professional development. The word cloud below summarizes what New Nation teachers regarded as the highlights of the course: