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:

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Kim Ranwell does the Eastern Cape proud in Technology-Enhanced Teaching National Teaching Awards

Ms Kim Ranwell of Herbert Hurd Primary School in Port Elizabeth, recently placed third in the 19th National Teaching Awards 'Excellence in Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning' category.

Along with teachers who placed first and second, Ranwell won a SchoolNet SA SACE accredited professional development course of her choice for herself and her colleagues as well as a sponsorship to attend the SchoolNet SA Digital Learning Conference, taking place in North West province in June 2019.

Ranwell's uses of Technology to Enhance Education

Technology permeates every learning area in Ms Ranwell’s school; the school insists on having it included as a lesson in each subject taught. Learners are also given an opportunity to independently demonstrate their understanding of the various ICT applications by creating various multimedia content, which they then present to the class.

Ms Ranwell not only champions the learners’ cause but has been instrumental in empowering her fellow teachers to effectively use the technology that is at their disposal. Mindful of people’s natural resistance to change, she uses her dedication and absolute passion she has for technology to convince them of its benefits. 

“Everything that I do comes out of the belief that technology does enhance the children’s learning and can improve our teaching,” she says. 

According to Ms Ranwell, staying abreast of technological developments in one’s area of interest and the willingness to constantly redefine oneself is critical in today’s education system. She advises other teachers to move with the times and try new ways of doing things. “You cannot do things the way they’ve always been done, you have to find out what works best for the learners you currently have in your class because they’re very different to learners we’ve ever had before,” she concludes. 

SchoolNet SA - proud supporter of Excellence in Technology-Enhanced Teaching

“SchoolNet SA is especially proud to support the Excellence in Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning category of the NTAs. As an organisation, we believe in improving existing pedagogies by providing innovative classroom activities that harness new technologies, that promote higher order thinking skills and ignite a spirit of enquiry among learners. The teachers who won the Excellence in Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning Category are teachers who have demonstrated that they have embraced digital learning and are using this to the benefit of their learners,” says SchoolNet Executive Director, Janet Thomson.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Microsoft and HP present Teaching Teachers workshops in Gauteng

On Saturday 30 March 2018 Microsoft and HP will be hosting Teaching Teachers workshops - one in Pretoria and one in Edenvale. The workshops will be presented by SchoolNet SA facilitators and will focus on OneNote and how it can be used as an educational tool and features of PowerPoint that can be used to flip your classroom.

The workshops will follow the same format:

  • 8:00 - 9:00 - Arrival, registration and getting connected
  • 9:00 - 10:00 - Training
  • 10:00 - 11:00 - Q&A

The workshops are free to teachers, but places are limited and offered on a first-come-first-served basis. Teachers who would like to attend one of the workshops will need to register in advance by clicking on the link for the session and venue where they would like to attend. No walk-ins will be accommodated who have not pre-registered.

The details of the first Gauteng sessions are as follows (with other provinces hopefully following soon):

Date:        30 March 2019
Times:      8:00 - 11:00
Venue:      HP Store Menlyn Shopping Centre
Address:   Shop LF78, Cnr Atterbury road and Lois avenue
RSVP:      Fill in this link to register for the Menlyn workshop

Date:        30 March 2019
Times:      8:00 - 11:00
Venue:      Corporate Conference Centre (NOT Eastgate HP store as previously advertised)
Address:   101 Edward Drive, Dowerglen, Edenvale
RSVP:      Fill in this link to register for the Edenvale workshop

Please bring along your own device so that you can participate in this hands-on workshop. You will also require a Microsoft or O365 account - so please register for one prior to the workshop if you don't already have one here.

We look forward to seeing you at one of these hands-on professional development sessions. Why not invite a teacher colleague and make a morning of it?

Tshegofatso Matjila of North West places second in NTA Technology-Enhanced Education category

Mr Tshegofatso Matjila of Botsalano Primary School situated in Kagisano Molopo, North West recently placed second in the "Excellence in Technology-Enhanced Education" category of the 19th National Teaching Awards. The teachers placed first, second and third in this category each receive a SchoolNet South African Council for Educator's (SACE) accredited professional development course of their choice for themselves and colleagues at their respective schools. Matjila, as well as the two runners up in his category will also be sponsored to attend the SchoolNet SA Digital Learning Conference, taking place in North West province in June 2019.

Matjila’s uses of Technology to Enhance Education

Since incorporating ICT in his Mathematics teaching arsenal, Mr Matjila’s learners have become more enthusiastic in attending and participating in his class and there has been a marked improvement in their performance.

“Technology has brought a new and exciting pictorial dimension to my lessons; my learners don’t have to depend on their imagination alone anymore as we now use simulation and videos to ensure further understanding of the concepts,” he says.

With Botsalano Primary School based in a rural community rife with poverty, a lot of the learners come to school with physical and emotional issues which, according to Mr Matjila, need to be dealt with before any effective learning can take place. He believes in the importance of studying and correctly applying official policies, with a good measure of ubuntu, when solving these challenges.

Producing independent and critical thinkers who would go on to change the world for the better is what keeps him motivated to do his best every day. “Imparting knowledge through quality teaching is important to me. I strive to ensure that excellence is provided for all of my learners, regardless of their social position.”

Matjila’s advice to colleagues

Mr Matjila’s advice to new teachers is to approach teaching as a way of living and not a career, saying “Teaching is not a job, it’s a way of living where we need to constantly work hard in order to provide quality teaching to our learners,” he concludes.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Congratulations to Linford Molaodi of Limpopo - NTA Technology-Enhanced Teaching Winner

Mr Linford Molaodi of Masemola High School in Marogoe Masemola, Limpopo recently won the 'Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning Award' at the 2019 National Teaching Awards.
In addition to winning a brand new car, a range of technology devices, a Legacy Hotel holiday break and R 10 000 in cash, SchoolNet SA was pleased to award Moladi with a SACE professional development workshop of his choice for himself and his colleagues, as well as a sponsored opportunity to attend the SchoolNet SA Digital Learning conference. 

How does Maselmola use technology to enhance teaching and learning?

Mr Molaodi uses ICT in his classes in various ways, from gamifying content for maximum understanding to using online simulations for instances when apparatus for conducting science experiments is not available. He also avails himself after school via social media platforms to learners who need further clarification on topics covered in class. Besides his classroom work, Mr Molaodi also assists principals from other schools with professional development strategies and provides advice to circuit managers on ICT integration in schools. 

When Mr Molaodi says he absolutely loves helping people he is not merely paying lip-service, he demonstrates this over and over again not only within his class or schooling community but across education districts in Limpopo. “Experiencing people’s transition from a sense of being disadvantaged to being resourceful through technology gives me great fulfillment,” says Mr Molaodi. 

Linford's advice to colleagues

His advice to fellow teachers is to keep company with teachers who have a sound vision for their learners: “Align yourself with people who go an extra mile for their learners and the community within which they operate,” he says. Congratulations to Linford! We look forward to seeing you at the SchoolNet SA conference.