Monday, 23 April 2018

Integration of digital tools in KwaNdgenezi lessons

SchoolNet's Hlengiwe Mfeka recently ran a workshop on Using in Digital Resources in the Classroom with teachers from twelve KwaNdgenezi schools, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pinetown.

Following the workshop, Hlengiwe visited each of the schools involved to observe lessons and to provide some additional support to teachers. Described below are some of the lessons that Hlengiwe observed. These lessons are good examples of how digital tools and content can be incorporated into lessons, even where there are not many resources available.

Mr. Sithembiso Mbokazi used a popular movie staring Jackie Chan as part of an IsiZulu lesson. Whilst the movie was in English, he used the film as a way to reinforce the different elements of a story such as plot, character, theme and setting. Once the learners understood the process of creating a story they were tasked with creating their own stories that incorporated elements of storytelling they had discussed in relation to the film.

At Asiphephe Primary School Nosipho Bhengu introduced a life orientation lesson with a video on goal setting. After watching the video, which introduced the concept of SMART goals, the learners collaborated to list their own goals. Not only will they remember all about goal setting from this lesson, they are also sure to use technology to access more resources to support lessons in their other subjects.

At Wozamoyo High School the teachers set a task for an English lesson that involved learners doing a role play and peers taking a video. This video was then later edited so that it can be shown to others to raise awareness of appropriate cell phone use. The teachers at this school, Olga and Nana were not afraid to think out of the box to set a task that made use of the digital tools available.

At Ziphathele High School, Geography teacher Sbonga was making good use of the resources on the hard drive provided by the Rotary Club of Pinetown to support his Geography lesson. For a subject like Geography, concepts are easier to understand and recall if one is able to see the place, land-form or climatological phenomenon being described. Digital resources allow learners to explore a range of places virtually that they may not get to experience in real life.

We hope that the KwaNdgenezi teachers will continue to use the digital resources that they have been provided with, along as the skills they have acquired for integrating them into the classroom. With practice and experience it will become easier to integrate digital resources and to develop a wider range of engaging lessons.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Calling Grade 11 Girls with a passion for IT

For the past two years Brescia House School has hosted a dinner for grade 11 girls who are studying either Computer Applications Technology or IT, their teachers and women in the IT industry. These  dinners have provided a great opportunity for young woman with an interest in technology to network with professionals who have succeeded in the technology field.

This year, SchoolNet SA is proud to be associated with the CuriosITy dinner as well as the workshops which will be held in the afternoon before the dinner. These are taking place as follows:

CuriosITy Workshops

Date:    Wednesday 30 May 2018
Time:    3pm - 5pm
Venue:  Brescia House School Hall - 14 Slone street Bryanston

CuriosITy Dinner

Date:    Wednesday 30 may 2018
Time:    6pm - 9:30pm
Venue:  Bryanston Catholic Church Hall (adjacent to Brescia House School)

During the workshops, the girls and their teachers will learn more about Micro-bits, Robotics, Coding, Green Screen, Movie Making and more. The workshops will be followed by a three course dinner which will include two inspirational guest speakers. Changing seats between courses leads to the girls chatting to different professionals  about what they do, which tertiary courses they found to be the most useful, and how they balance the demands of work and family life and working in a male dominated industry.

If you are a high school technology teacher, please register for the workshop and dinner using this Quicket link. There is no cost for girls and teachers to attend the event however places are limited and registration is essential.

If you are a female professional in the IT industry - we appeal to you to buy a ticket to attend this event using this Quicket link. You will have the option of purchasing a ticket for yourself to attend the dinner (R350), sponsoring a girl to attend the dinner (R250) or covering the costs of 5 girls and yourself to attend the dinner (R1 250). Not only will your contribution help cover the costs of the event, your stories and example may just provide a young girl with the inspiration to #MakeWhatsNext.

See more about the CuriosITy dinner and workshops on the Brescia House School website.

Nozipho Mvubu - an exemplary Grade R teacher at Bhongo Primary

Ms Nozipho Mvubu is a new qualified teacher (ECD) teaching grade R at Bhongo Primary. She is passionate about her work, hardworking, calm and her heart is a hundred percent committed to what she does. She is creative, a critical thinker and organized – her classroom environment speaks for itself. The principal at Bhongo Primary highly commends Ms Mvubu’s positive attitude but mostly her humility. The principal mentioned how lucky she is to have Ms Mvubu as a teacher, noting that even parents prefer their children to enrol in her class having seen the impact on learner achievement under her care. "Give her any task, she’ll excel at it,” says the principal.

Ms Mvubu's exemplary teaching skills became evident when Ms Hlengiwe Mfeka visited her class as part of a professional development and support programme being rolled out by SchoolNet and funded by the Pinetown Rotary Club. Hlengiwe noticed that the lesson included all aspects of a great lesson:
• A pleasant class environment
• Learner discipline wrapped with love and care
• Free-spirited learners participating actively in all given tasks and with determination
• Learner-centred approach
• Learners comfortable working in teams and sharing (which is uncommon with young kids)
• Good use of digital tools, relevant and age appropriate apps
• Good teaching strategies which remained inclusive

The principal reported that after Ms Mvubu had attended the 'Using Digital Resources in the Classroom' professional development session she had given a moving presentation  to all her colleagues on the staff sharing some of what she had learnt. It had not ended there; Ms Mvubu began to use the knowledge and skills from the course - and has not looked back. She continues to develop herself by searching the internet, continuously referring to the training materials provided. She brings her family’s old and new cell phones to school to be used by her learners. She has created a WhatsApp group for her the parents of her learners’ so that she can communicate with them and share learners artifacts and activities.

It was impressive to see young children in grade R working confidently, efficiently and effectively with cell phones and a laptop and above all enjoying themselves yet learning! Well done to Ms Nozipho Mvubu.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

South Africa’s reading crisis – time for a digital and playful solution?

There is a solution to the Foundation Phase reading crisis that the education system in South Africa currently faces. The early introduction and integration of digital tools in the classroom can and has proven to improve literacy levels amongst children, a SchoolNet South Africa (SNSA) study has found.

The country’s reading crisis has once again come into the spotlight through the latest findings of the Progress In International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). It has revealed that many of country’s children are struggling to read; that as much as 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language.

While the research study of this project, called Learning Gains through Play (LGP), showed learning gains in all foundational literacies tracked, the most interesting findings were of gains in oral English language skills acquired subconsciously through play by second language learners.

The Methodology

Ten schools in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape each received a bank of learner tablets and an Xbox Kinect (including carefully selected apps and games) which, along with intensive teacher development and support, were integrated in teaching and learning activities in Grade R and Grade 1 classrooms. Learners were tracked over a four year period to assess their progress in foundational skills.

Data was compared with control school learners who were assessed and tracked in the same manner (but did not enjoy the benefits of any of the LGP project inputs). Results showed improvements in achievement in all five foundational literacies of gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills, numeracy, visual literacy and oral English communication skills.

This last literacy is of particular interest as the learning gains were substantial and furthermore, because the language of learning and teaching is a hotly debated topic in South Africa. With eleven official languages there is little consensus on which is more beneficial, for children to learn in their mother tongue or in the universal language of English.

This issue is particularly contentious in the first grades of Foundation Phase in South Africa. SchoolNet’s Learning Gains through Play project has shown that in the early grades, children can acquire English language skills “on their own” through engaging with learning games and apps that use English as the medium of instruction.

This acquisition of English is very different to the formal learning of a language with its structures and rules. Acquisition is a subconscious immersive method to understand and make meaning, similar to the way in which babies learn their mother tongue.

For the LGP children learning was mediated by their educators; it was not really learning “on their own” but learning driven by a need to make understanding of the games and apps in order to engage and entertain themselves with the digital tools that they found so exciting. One of the LGP findings was that learners’ curiosity was sufficiently enabled to trigger self-driven learning.

The theory of second language acquisition (SLA) was proposed by linguistic professor Stephen Krashen (1981) and according to Krashen and Terrell (1995), students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency.

“With the majority of learners in South Africa learning in their home language in Foundation Phase and then making an abrupt switch to learning in English from Grade 4 (and this coupled with the addition of three more subjects), providing tablets, Xboxes, apps and games in English for learners in the early grades is an effective strategy for preparing learners for success in the Intermediate Phase and beyond,” says SNSA’s Executive Director, Janet Thomson.

The worst hit from the reading crisis are poor and disadvantaged children, who make up 25% of the population who live in extreme poverty. An alarming fact is that learning deficiencies in the early grades accumulate and have a far greater detrimental impact in later grades and across all subjects including Mathematics.

Only the top 16% of Grade 3 Maths students are achieving at the Grade 3 level (Spaull & Kotze, 2015). Clearly the vast majority of South African learners are not meeting the curriculum requirements even at the very start of their journey through the schooling system.

In addition to the county’s poor reading culture, reading is also generally taught badly resulting in what the The Conversation has dubbed a “cognitive catastrophe”.  The publication argued recently that “failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society.” This essentially means that we are raising generations of cognitively stunted individuals who then become stuck in intergeneration poverty.

One of the reasons why the PIRLS Study tested 13 000 Grade 4 children is because it is in the Foundation Phase “that the base for all future learning is established, and if the rudiments of reading, writing and calculating are not firmly entrenched by the end of Grade 3, then both learning opportunities and the larger life chances of young citizens will be curtailed” (National Education, Evaluation and Development Unit, 2013).

For more information, please see the Executive Summary of Learning Gains Findings

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Register with a Microsoft account on the Microsoft Educator Community

Many South African teachers have joined the Microsoft Educator Community to complete online professional development courses, to be part of a global community of teachers, to participate in Skype in the Classroom activities and to share lesson plans and quick tip videos with teachers from around the world.

As of 12 March 2018 new users will only be able to join the Microsoft Educator Community using either a personal Microsoft account or an Office 365 account. According to Sonja Delafosse - Microsoft Senior Education Manager, "We’re phasing out accounts so we can optimize user experiences with Office 365 and Microsoft personal accounts".

Teachers who have already joined the Microsoft Educator Community using a Facebook, Skype or Twitter account need to change their login details to reflect either an Office 365 or Microsoft personal account by 8 May, 2018.

After 8 May 2018 Microsoft Educator Community users who are currently accessing their accounts through Facebook, Skype or Twitter email addresses will lose access to their account and badges, certifications and any published content will be permanently deleted. 

Don't lose the badges, certificates, points and connections you have worked so hard to achieve. Log in to the Microsoft Educator Community now to convert your login details to a Microsoft account. 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Youth can build digital skills - for free

Tshepho 1 Million is giving hope to young unemployed people in Gauteng by providing them with a way to access skills and learning opportunities to prepare for the world of work. Whilst only young people in Gauteng can sign up for the Tshepo 1 Million job placement programme, youth from anywhere in South Africa can access online training through 

#thintimillion is a cloud-based learner management system which Microsoft has made available to scale access to key digital skills training modules. Young people who have never used a computer will be trained on Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint and will be able to complete online tests and assessments. Young job seekers can access the training materials at libraries and training sites throughout Gauteng or they can complete the modules on their phones. 

The Thinti'Million Digital Literacy - Productivity Programme launch event took place at the Sebokeng Library on 4 April 2018. At the event Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi stressed that "youth need a hand up; not a hand out". Young people in attendance were already hard at work navigating through the modules and taking the online quizzes with many saying that they would be back to continue the course.

Teachers can encourage learners to complete the online courses so that they develop basic digital skills whilst still at school - ensuring that they are better prepared for tertiary studies or the workplace. As Microsoft SA says: "It is critical that we enable all citizens to effectively participate by building the necessary digital skills and bridging the divide. #thintimillion @Tshepo1Million"

Friday, 30 March 2018

KwaNdengazi Teachers being supported by Rotary Pinetown

In a previous blogpost we reported on teachers from 12 schools in KwaNdengezi who received professional development in using digital resources sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pinetown. These professional development workshops took place in February 2018 and were intended to assist teachers to effectively integrate the use of curriculum-aligned digital content into their lessons.

In March 2018, SchoolNet’s Hlengiwe Mfeka followed up with support visits to schools to see how teachers were integrating digital content across a range of subjects and phases and to provide on-the-spot support and just-in-time learning opportunities.

Hlengiwe’s school visits proved to be valuable; they contributed towards improving the teachers’ practical understanding of implementing and or integrating digital literacies in their lessons.  Hlengiwe encouraged them to continue along this journey.  For some of the teachers it was a daunting experience as they were embarking on digital learning strategies for the first time in their teaching experience.

There were cases where some of the teachers presented a traditional lesson with no integration of digital tools or resources. This happened for a variety of reasons.   It was also noted that some of the teachers used PowerPoint presentations confidently but with no fundamental change to their traditional telling method where learning is teacher-centred.

The few teachers who had not managed to apply the learnings from the professional development sessions gave clear indication of the gap that sometimes exists when the facilitator assumes everyone has understood the concept perfectly but when teachers return to their own environment they are unable to implement what was covered.  Sometimes other factors are responsible such as management resistance or lack of collegial support that can cause discouragement.  These follow-up visits therefore encouraged these teachers and afforded them the opportunity to work on any flaws which had surfaced.  On the flip side, it was a very pleasant surprise for Hlengiwe to discover how teachers who might have seemed reserved during the training session were the ones who were shining and excelling in their classrooms.

During each school visit, Hlengiwe met with the teacher before his or her lesson, observed the lesson taking place, and then spent time after the lesson to discuss reflections on the lesson.  Schools with management buy-in were clearly identifiable because the principals would know about the visits, would ask about the project and would show interest in the outcome of the lesson observation. Some teachers also remarked on how they were supported by their principal and the SMT and some of these positive stories were videoed to motivate other teachers who are participating in the project.   This project is destined to grow from strength simply because of the critical mass of teachers who are enthusiastic and committed.

Read more about some of the KwaNdengezi teachers lessons here as well as a profile on Nozipho Mvubu - an exemplary Grade R teacher.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

TechnoGranny uses Skype to create a Classroom in the Sky

This week, eleven South African teachers, are attending the E2 Education Exchange in Singapore. This prestigious conference brings together over 300 innovative teachers from around the world to share their best practices and to learn more about how to use Microsoft technologies in the Classroom.

Phuti Ragophala, a Microsoft Fellow and passionate advocate of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, was selected to present a session on how she uses Skype to break down the walls and bring the world into the classroom at E2. 

Phuti says: "After retiring from being a school principal at Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo I recognized a digital gap amongst youth and educators in my community. From my home I am able to access many schools nationally and internationally to share innovative ways of learning and teaching using free Microsoft resources like Skype".

Through leveraging the power of Skype, Phuti has been a guest speaker to a class in Texas; she has spoken to children at the KAKUMA refugee camp in Kenya; and she has presented at Microsoft events and webinars. Phuti has also used Skype to be part of global collaborative projects on climate action and supporting victims of sexual abuse. 

Phuti leverages Skype in the Classroom resources to provide opportunities for children in her area to travel virtually beyond the dusty streets of Limpopo. Phuti and her learners have been part of a collaborative project with Middle school Zweetle in Austria; they have taken a virtual field trip to Florida to study turtles; they have played the Mystery Skype game with a class in the Ukraine; and they have discussed water problems with another MIE Expert's class in Japan. 

Whilst Skype is a powerful tool to connect classrooms and teachers with friends in other countries, there is still power in face-to-face opportunities to meet people from other countries. At a previous Microsoft Global Forum, Phuti and USA teacher Julie Hembree shared stories about their respective schools. Julie was so touched by the lack of resources at Pula Madibogo that she organised book collections to be able to send reading materials to South Africa. She then listened to the Limpopo learners read to her via Skype and finally traveled to South Africa to meet them in person and to see Phuti's school first hand.

We are sure that Phuti and the other South African teachers who are attending E2 in Singapore are busy making teacher-friends from across the world. We look forward to hearing how the E2 delegates are going to leverage these friendships and shared love for using technology in the classroom to set up collaborative projects in the future. We are sure that whatever they do, Skype will play a role in ensuring that teachers from different countries will be able to stay in touch virtually after the conference. 

To learn more about Skype in the Classroom - and to get your class involved in Mystery Skypes, Virtual Field Trips and Skype-a-Thons join the Microsoft Educator Community.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Port Elizabeth Telkom Connected Schools Teachers show how they are using digital tools

In March 2018, SchoolNet SA's operations manager Omashani Naidoo visited two Port Elizabeth High Schools that are part of the Telkom Connected Schools project to see how they are using their digital resources and to provide some on-the-spot coaching and mentoring. Here is a round-up of some of the best practices that were observed where digital tools were being used to enhance teaching and learning.

At Ndzondelelo High School:

Ms Busi Hlongo, a Grade 8 Life Orientation teacher, was teaching a lesson on how media influences Sexual and Cultural Perspectives. The lesson was presented using the Smartboard and lesson plan prepared on PowerPoint.

Mr QweQwe a Grade 8 Maths teacher was teaching a lesson on algebraic expressions. He was comfortable using the Smartbook and Smart Notebook software, and learners who did not have textbooks were able to copy examples from the Smartboard on to paper.

Ms Magibisela, the grade 8 English teacher had downloaded an e-book on Narrative essays. Her lesson required learners to draw a Mindmap and to use the brainstorm strategy to plan the different aspects of what their essays. Even though learners did not have access to digital devices, there was a lot of interactivity between the teacher and learners and between the learners themselves.

Ms Nokwazi Nokufa the Consumer Studies and technology teacher worked with Omashani to find a way to do 3D drawings using a mix of Word, the grid and ruler when the Smartboard software in her classroom could not access the 3D measurement and shape tools. Omashani also helped Nofuka connect to the Sun International Digital Hospitality materials which will help her in teaching Consumer Studies.

Ms Nomakule Mahlaza the grade 8 Natural Science teacher proudly shared the YouTube videos that she has downloaded to help bring topics to life in her classroom. She told Omashani that she could stop any learner to ask them about topics she had completed including photosynthesis and respiration and the learners would be able to answer questions about them based on remembering the topics from the videos that they had watched.

At Khwezi Lomso:

Mr Dasi the Grade 8 Maths teacher is very ICT literate, and uses the Smartboard with ease. He says that he usually relies on the internet to complete online tests and assessments which are sourced from a joint project with the NMMU where curriculum resources have been developed for teachers in the Eastern Cape.

Ms Lantu was teaching Natural science and working through Micro-organisms. The teacher had a PowerPoint presentaion prepared with images and links to online resources. Omashani showed her how to download and save videos to make her lessons even more interactive. 

Ms Kawa the Geography teacher was using the Smartboard to teach her lesson on the rotation of the earth and the globe (latitude and longitude). The teacher had a lesson prepared, but went back to drawing on the screen alongside the Smartboard instead of using the lesson more creatively.

Mr Doyi was also teaching a social sciences (Geography) lesson on the globe and rotation of the earth, and had shared the same PowerPoint as Ms Kawa. This is indicative of sharing of resources which is great to see. Oh how we would love to see these Geography learners playing Mystery Skype in the future as a fun way of testing their understanding of geographical terms. That would really keep them engaged and would ensure that they remembered the parts of the globe!

Ms Mapikela was teaching Xhosa in the most exciting way. She downloaded a YouTube video about Umshato (Xhosa wedding) and the learners were alive in the class. They could all identify with the song and could also then interact when the teacher asked questions about the dress colours during different seasons. 

Ms Landiwe Mapapu taught a lesson in EMS about the National Budget and was able to show the breakdown of budget income and expenditure.

Ms Thembisa Ntlangiwini, the Technology teacher used the Smartboard and a prepared PowerPoint lesson to teach Structures. She used images of different structures so that learners could see the various structures in their everyday application.

We salute the teachers of Ndzondelelo High School and Khwezi Lomso who are doing their best to fully utilize the resources that their schools have been given. We know that as these teachers gain in confidence and learn from one another and their training sessions that they will be able to enhance their lessons even further.

Mr Nicholas Matshele - a principal who leads by example

Mr Matshele of NM Tsuene Secondary School is an exemplary principal who leads by example. He has been attending the SchoolNet SA Change Leadership course as part of the Telkom connected schools project.

In addition to learning some new skills as part of this program, Mr Matshele has got some great strategies of his own that help him to successfully lead his school. These include:

1. Accept criticism – accepting criticism is a sign that one is willing to learn and become better at what they do.

2. Sacrifice – A good leader leads by example. If the principal tells his staff to attend training on a Saturday then he too must be willing to attend training. Even if the focus of the training will be on teachers, the principal must attend to motivate his staff members. The same applies for early learner support lessons, the principal is supposed to encourage learners to attend morning classes by being there for them.

3. Be prepared to learn new things and be ahead were possible – A good leader learns and grows with his staff members and where possible he must learn more so that he can help those he is leading.

When we interviewed Mr Matshele, his passion for teachers and learners at his school was clearly evident. In knowing that change is inevitable Mr Matshele helps his staff accept change better by being supportive, leading by example and caring for his staff members.

Circumstances have also forced Matshele to learn digital skills and he acknowledges that teachers need to learn these skills, and share them with their learners, to be more efficient and to communicate more effectively. Matshele says that two years ago he could not write an e-mail however the changing society and the need to be a global citizen has prompted him to learn how to write and send e-mails. Communicating with parents has become easier using e-mails and WhatsApp as teachers are no longer dependant on learners passing messages on to thier parents. Learning how to use the different Office Applications, such as Excel, enable teachers to do calculations more quickly and without errors, when compared to calculating manually.

It takes some effort for schools to implement any new skills and this is why NM Tsuene teachers and school leaders make time for meetings to discuss changes that they need to implement at the school. These meetings are sometimes informal yet they are useful for teachers because this is where they learn from each other. Having ICT devices and service providers who are there to help teachers to build their skills helps rejuvenate their intended accomplishment of the school vision.

Teachers at NM Tsuene are motivated by the generous sponsorship by Telkom Foundation – each of the Grade 8 classes received an interactive board and learner tablets for teaching and learning. Sadly, the learner tablets were stolen from this school in a burglary, however this has not changed the teachers enthusiasm towards technology and the school is constantly seeking ways in which they can recover what they have lost through civvies day donations and other creative ways of fund raising.

This picture shows the teachers of NM Tsuene working in their computer lab before the burglary.

We look forward to hearing more about what this inspirational principal and his staff members are able to achieve at NM Tsuene.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Spotlight on NM Tsuene Secondary School

NM Tsuene Secondary School is a small school nestled in Ga-Rankuwa unit 3. The school is part of the Telkom connected schools project and it stands out because teachers at the school are keen on learning and are very positive towards using technologies in the classroom for teaching and learning.

The principal at the school Mr Nicholas Matshele is a hands-on principal who also teaches Grade 12 Life Sciences. Mr Matshele admits that he may not have the best administration skills however he believes that his passion for teaching sets him apart from other school principals and helps him to understand the daily challenges that his teachers face in the classroom.

He says, “I love a peaceful environment where there are no ego-related issues”. At NM Tsuene staff are united in ensuring learners pass - even if this requires sacrifice at times. Mr Matshele belives in supporting his staff as when people are supported they feel important which makes working together (and running a school) an easier task.

Staff members at NM Tsuene are growing in leaps and bounds especially since some of the training interventions they have received from SchoolNet SA. Mr Matshele attests that he has seen a remarkable change in some of his staff members, with some teachers showing leadership skills that he didn’t know existed in his school, and others having the opportunity to identify their talents and start using them. This is yet another milestone because it means that Mr Matshele can now delegate some of his work to teachers if the SMT members are not available.

During the Change Leadership for Technology Integration training, NM Tsuene’s SMT was tasked with reviewing their school vision and after much deliberation the team decided to create a new vision which would symbolise a change in how they would now teach and learn.

The schools updated vision is:

Mr Matshele explained that the vision in essence means that, “the wings of change have influenced this new vision. We can’t delay the institution by running things the old way.”

SchoolNet SA is proud to be associated with NM Tsuene and we have enjoyed working with Mr Matshele and other staff at the school. We look forward to helping this school achieve its vision.

Monday, 26 February 2018

DigiGirlz get a taste of technology

On 23 February 2018, sixty Grade 10 learners from Lofentse Girls High in Soweto participated in a DigiGirlz event at the Orlando Pirates ICT Resource Centre.

A panel of four young black female Microsoft staff members spoke to the girls about how they got started in their STEM careers, which subjects they took at university and what they are now responsible for at Microsoft. This was inspirational as the DigiGirlz could see some of the possibilities for women who pursue careers in technology. The panel also helped to debunk some of the myths around what type of people code.

After being inspired by the speakers, the DigiGirlz had an opportunity to try out an Hour of Code for themselves, using the Minecraft themed tutorials available at Although none of the girls had tried coding before, and Information technology and Computer Applications Technology are not offered at their schools - a number of girls completed all twelve levels of the tutorial in an hour.

Whilst only 43% of the participants reported having an interest in a career in technology before attending the DigiGirlz event; 98% of the DigiGirlz said they were now interested in a career in technology after attending the event.

According the the DigiGirlz - these were some of the highlights of the event: 
"The best part is to learn that coding is not about computers,it is actually about collaborating and discussing your ideas with others."
"The best part was learning more about Microsoft. People from Microsoft gave us career advice on doing what we love."
"Learning more about technology and its fields. i enjoyed playing the hour of code , it was challenging, interesting and most importantly it was a mind opening game."

You can read more about this event on the Orlando Pirates blog.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Top teachers recognized for enhancing teaching and learning using technology

On Saturday 17 February 2018 the Department of Basic Education honored teachers who are doing exemplary work at the 18th National Teaching Awards.

At a prestigious event held at the Sandton Convention Centre, teachers were commended for extraordinary efforts across a range of categories including Excellence in Teaching Mathematics, Science, Grade R and Special Needs. Educators who have dedicated their professional lives to providing exceptional education were honoured with The Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement Award and the Professor Kader Asmal Award.

SchoolNet SA is particularly proud to be associated with the Excellence in Technology Enhanced Education category, as this category recognizes teachers who are using digital tools to engage and inspire learners. SchoolNet SA's Programmes Manager, Megan Rademeyer, served as a specialist adjudicator for this category and had the opportunity of hearing first hand from each of the provincial winners of this category how they are enhancing teaching and learning through the integration of technology.

The winner of this category was Mariette Vorster formerly of Touwsranten Primary in the Western Cape. Mariette says "using ICT as a tool to transform pedagogy is the future of education. Passive learning is something of the past." According to an article in All Africa, "Ms Vorster played a leading role in preparing Touwsranten Primary School for eLearning when the Western Cape Education Department selected the school as a Model School for the province's eLearning Game Changer programme." Mariette has now joined the Eden Karoo Education District office as an eLearning Advisor.

Nabeel Ismail of Zinnaville Secondary School in NorthWest placed second and Gerhardus Malan of Aurora Primary School in Free State who came third. Between them, these three teachers received a total sponsorship of R100 000 worth of SchoolNet SA training, mentorship and conference participation.

SchoolNet SA's Operations Manager Omashani Naidoo received a certificate of appreciation from Minister of Basic Education Angie Motsheka. 

Friday, 16 February 2018

Celebrate Digital Learning Day by joining our professional learning communities

Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience. With so many digital tools available, you may find that it is difficult to keep up with the apps, devices and software that are available. But, providing digital learning opportunities is not so much about the tools you are using - instead it is about what you are doing with them.

We know that teachers throughout South Africa are doing amazing things in their classrooms using technology. Digital Learning Day was started as a way to actively spread innovative practices and ensure that all youth have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.

With Digital Learning Day approaching on 22 February 2018 think about how you can:
  • Share your innovative practices using digital tools with other teachers 
  • Get involved in a Professional Learning Community to be part of the conversation around enhancing learning opportunities for your learners
  • Upgrade your skills and learn more about some of the latest trends in education through committing yourself to ongoing professional development

SchoolNet SA provides a range of platforms for teachers to be part of our professional learning community. Please sign up to be a SchoolNet SA member if you have not done so already. Please also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date about our professional development opportunities, digital tools to try out and educational projects to support. If you are willing to share your expertise with our community of teachers please be in touch with us about hosting a webinar or to write a guest blog post on how you are using technology in your classroom.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Looking forward to the National Teachers Awards

On Saturday 17 February 2018 The Department of Basic Education will honor some of South Africa's most dedicated teachers at the 18th National Teaching Awards. SchoolNet SA staff staff members and invited guests are looking forward to attending this prestigious event to celebrate the achievements of these exceptional educators.  

SchoolNet SA is especially proud to be associated with the Excellence in Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning category. SchoolNet SA Programmes Manager Megan Rademeyer has been the specialist adjudicator for this category since its inception and had the privilege of listening to each provincial winner of this category present his or her work.

Megan says, "the standard of entries was especially high this year, with provincial winners in this category having been involved in a range of activities and projects to engage and inspire learners whilst using technology. It was heartwarming to see how teachers from across South Africa were using digital tools to broaden their own horizons and those of their learners."

This year, SchoolNet SA will once again be awarding R100 000 worth of SchoolNet SA training, mentorship and conference participation to the teachers placing first, second and third in this category. In previous years, each of the winners has selected any one of the many SACE- endorsed SchoolNet SA courses facilitated for teachers at their respective schools. Furthermore each of the three teachers has taken up the opportunity to attend or even present at a conference in South Africa relating to effective digital learning in the classroom.

Through the National Teaching Awards, the Department of Basic Education acknowledges the extraordinary efforts of teachers, often achieved under very difficult conditions and in service to children from underprivileged families and economically depressed communities. At SchoolNet SA we echo these sentiments and look forward to celebrating the achievements of some of South Africa's best teachers.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Professional development for KwaNdengezi Teachers in Using Digital Resources

The Pinetown Rotary Club has invested in providing schools in the KwaNdgenezi area of KwaZulu-Natal with harddrives containing educational resources, but they also wanted to offer teachers from their focus schools professional development and support to ensure that the resources are used to their full potential. SchoolNet SA was engaged to provide a comprehensive professional development programme for teachers to build their skills, knowledge and confidence in using digital resources in their lessons. In turn they will provide learners with access to the resources, thereby transforming teaching and learning and contributing to improved learner performance.

The project includes three phases:
  • a three-day professional development course on Using Digital Resources, 
  • on-site visits to support and mentor teachers as they implement what they have learnt at the workshop, and 
  • further training focusing on curriculum integration in the classroom.
The first training intervention, aimed at the adoption level, was facilitated over three days at the KwaNdengezi Education Centre between 7 and 9 February 2018. SchoolNet trainer, Hlengiwe Mfeka set an assessment task which indicated that the majority of the teachers had limited digital skills and the introductions revealed that teachers assumed they were attending a course for computer skills only. Hlengiwe explained the purpose of the course and the teachers realized that the course would exceed their expectations.

The Using Digital Resources course design promotes the four Cs of 21st Century learning; Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking and Creativity. Teachers learnt some theory and were exposed to some educational models but this was done in order to get teachers to reflect on their own teaching practices and to aim towards more learner-centered approaches. A highlight was the session on downloading and using the digital app, 2Enable and accessing the wider range of digital materials on the harddrives which were provided by Rotary to their schools. Teachers were amazed to see there are so many resources available to them to bring their lessons to life. The Kahoot game provided a fun way to reinforce content and to model how the teachers themselves could set up quizzes for their students to learn whilst having fun.

At the end of the workshop, teachers were asked to email a completed lesson plan to the facilitator, and most did this showing great commitment to the project. A briefing by by the MST & ICT directorate Dr Thami Nkabinde and an address by Rotary's Bill Draper indicated to teachers that they have support from a range of parties who want them to succeed in terms of using digital tools and resources to transform their educational practices.

This first phase of this Rotary programme had a great impact on the participants’ thinking, attitudes and skills. Hlengiwe noticed a shift in thinking when participants provided feedback during discussions - and there was even a change of language! Teachers committed to share acquired knowledge and skills with colleagues at their schools and they left the workshop looking forward to the next level of their professional development.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Happy Safer Internet Day

Tuesday, 6 February 2018 is Safer Internet Day. This year's theme is "Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you".

At SchoolNet SA we encourage teachers to create communities of digital learners, but we also want to ensure that teachers and learners are safe online. We encourage teachers to play their part in creating a better internet for everyone, especially learners.

At the 2017 SchoolNet SA ICT in the Classroom Conference, Omashani Naidoo presented a session on "Cyber Wellness and Digital Citizenship". In this presentation Omashani stressed that individuals are their own biggest threat on the web and challenged the audience to Google themselves and to see what came up. She advised that before posting anything you should ask yourself "Is this something I can show my parents or my Gogo or my Principal?".

Here is some guidance for keeping yourself safe online. Ensure you don't do any of these things:
  • Don’t publish information that identifies you 
  • Don’t upload inappropriate photos/videos 
  • Don’t use inappropriate language 
  • Don’t make online presence all about you 
  • Don’t mix wall posts and personal messages
And that instead you adopt these practices:
  • Choose sensible, strong, hard-to-guess passwords 
  • Know the privacy settings on social media 
  • Be selective when adding friends- accept only people you know 
  • Stop and think before you click 
  • Use fully protected devices
This #SaferInternetDay let's think about how we can join in online discussions and professional development opportunities whilst ensuring a better and safer digital experience.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts heading for E2 Singapore

Congratulations to the following educators who were selected to participate in the E2 Education Exchange taking place in Singapore between 12 and 15 March 2018:
  • Amanda Calitz - Curro: Riverside 
  • Charmaine Roynon - EDU 365 SA 
  • Jonas Letsoalo - Kgetsa Primary School 
  • Margaret Tracey - Hillcrest High School 
  • Paula Barnard - eFundanathi & eZone at Wits 
  • Xoliswa Mahlangu - Future Nations College 
  • Charl Bloomberg - Curro: Waterfall 
  • Noxolo Mongwe - Curro: Clayville

These teachers were selected based on their active participation in the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Program; their sharing of learning activities on the Microsoft Educator Community; and their commitment to continuous professional development in the field of digital learning. 

They will be joined by Phuti Ragophala - a Microsoft Fellow and the former principal of Pula Madibogo Primary in Limpopo. Phuti, who has retired from the traditional classroom, will be speaking at E2 about using online collaborative platforms to create a "Classroom in the Sky". Ronelle Klinck - a Microsoft Learning Consultant will accompany the group.

Anthony Salcito, Vice President - Microsoft in Education, says, "Every day I’m inspired by educators who innovate in the classroom and provide the best learning opportunities for their students. Educators are sparking creativity and curiosity in their students, by embracing modern teaching and learning, innovative curriculum, and by providing immersive experiences with technology. To celebrate these amazing educators and provide them with the opportunity to collaborate with each other, Microsoft is hosting the annual Microsoft Education Exchange (E2) event, as it has done for more than a decade.

Singapore was selected as the host country for E2 as it has a highly regarded education system, one of the highest literacy rates in the world and students regularly scoring top marks in maths and science.

We wish our South African teachers well as they head to Singapore - and look forward to following what they are doing while they are there - and learning from their experiences upon their return to South Africa. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

School Libraries in the Digital Age

SchoolNet SA has created a new professional development course called School Libraries in the Digital Age. It explores learning technologies and online tools to enable the setup of digital libraries in the most effective way possible. The authors of the course were aware that the National Guidelines for School Library and Education Services specify the use of Information and Communication Technologies, which are now referred to as “digital tools and resources”. 

 The course consists of five modules, entitled: 
1. Going Digital; 
2. The Effective Use of Digital Resources; 
3. Communication, Marketing and Social media; 
4. Digital Literacy; and 
5. Planning for Digitization. 

The first training session was conducted for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s Education Library, Information and Technology Services (ELITS) in December 2017. The KZN participants were very pleasantly surprised at how well the design and content resonated with their expectations; they were particularly receptive to the opportunity to discuss the course content.

Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo were the SchoolNet facilitators. They used the KWL chart (what I Know, what I Want to know and what I have Learnt) to provide the chance to share previous knowledge and experiences around digital libraries. As participants worked in groups, the activity ignited a spirit of collaboration – they enjoyed sharing their personal experiences and this strategy was used throughout the course. 

Some comments shared by the participants after the first day:
“I liked the table we completed on the admin. Processes which served as an analysis such that it interrogated who, why, where, when and how – sometimes we overlook these things when we interact and support school librarians. Now we know the right questions to ask…”

"I’m impressed by this course, it is one of a kind, the manner in which the content aligns with what we do as librarians – it has a good foundation basis” 

Analysing line items in the budget sample prompted some interesting discussions, illuminated the participants’ thinking around digital libraries. One of the longest debates was about the inclusion of bar code labels and spine labels, which emanated from the following scenario: 

Your Principal has asked you to draw up a budget proposal to digitise the school library. The school library has all the traditional basics. It now needs to be automated to better serve the needs of the school. He has said you can spend R50 000! See the sample budget to give you an idea of the costs related to computerisation. 

The group, especially ELITS management appreciated the activity around evaluating school library automation software which presented a useful opportunity for knowledge sharing when the groups  gave their feedback. Most groups rated Edadmin, Libwin and Oliver as the preferred programmes with the most features; whereas Papyrus was poorly rated and it was noted that SLIMS involved hidden costs. A range of training strategies were used on the course including a Gallery Walk which exposed participants to different scenarios which required the higher order skill of making informed choices. This linked well with the previous activity as it tapped into the participants’ acquired knowledge of automated software. 

During the unpacking the four C's of 21st century learning (collaboration, communication, critical thinking & creativity) the focus was on the additional and very pertinent C for curation. Evaluating online resources is crucial for the effective management of the range of information available via the net - so it was interesting that many of the group were learning about 21st century skills for the first time. Advanced searching techniques were experienced with participants being exposed to sophisticated methods of evaluating digital resources, misinformation and fake news.

Remaining topics that were covered in this session included online databases, academic databases and search engine websites, E-books and digital storytelling and particularly contributing to the African storybook website.

In summary, and from the feedback from participants, the workshop was a great success. SchoolNet is looking forward to rolling out this course in other provinces in the next few months.