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.