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

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.

Water is Life - Collaborate on a global problem

The water shortages in Cape Town have made all South Africans, particularly those living in the Western Cape, very much aware of the importance of saving water. But access to adequate, safe water is a global problem - we can both learn from ideas that are working in other countries, and our learners can contribute ideas of their own.

In February 2018, you can sign up to take part in the iEARN Water is Life project. As part of this global collaborative project, your students will be involved in active research and action-oriented collaboration concerning water as the vital essence of life.

Students will be encouraged and supported in the development of their learning. Working collaboratively with students in schools around the globe they will be encouraged to turn their research into ideas they can take to the community: local, national and global.

The iEarn Water in Life project is aimed at students in primary and secondary schools and will take place between February and June 2018.

To find out more about this project - or to sign up - please see the Water is Life Projects Space 

Please let us know if you have signed up - or if you are working on any other projects with a Water Conservation theme. We would like to share your ideas with other teachers.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Create a short film with your interpretation of "In Another's Shoes"

(submitted on behalf of EdTechTeam)

Do your learners have access to tablets or phones that they can use to create short films? Are you looking for an opportunity for your learners to express themselves in a creative and meaningful way? Why not ask them to create a two-minute video responding to the theme "In Another's Shoes". 

A new nonprofit has just launched the Global Student Voice Film Festival. This is an English-language film competition open globally to students ages 5-18. Students are invited to create a film no longer than 2 minutes responding to the prompt “In Another’s Shoes”.

Participants are free to experiment with different mediums including animation, puppetry, stop motion or silent films. Your learners are welcome to interpret this theme in any way that they chose - so long as audience members can see how their creative work relates to the theme. In fact, creativity is encouraged as learners are encouraged to think beyond their first impressions to create a truly original film.

Not only is this competition a great way for learners to develop empathy for others (and to learn some new filmmaking techniques at the same time) - there are also great prizes up for grabs.

Winners will be honored at a live film screening celebration at ISTE 2018 in Chicago, IL USA on Monday, June 25, 2018. Travel scholarships and registration support will be available for both students and their adult sponsors.

Submissions are open now with two due dates.
  • If students would like to get feedback on their films before final submission, they must submit by Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 11:59pm US Pacific Time.
  • All final submissions are due by Monday, April 9, 2018.

For more information including festival guidelines, submission rules and filmmaking learning resources, please visit the official website:

If you do enter this competition - please let us know so that we can feature the best South African entries on our @SchoolNetSA social media. We would love to showcase your learners' films.

Friday, 12 January 2018

South African Educators – join the #ZAedu '12 Days of Twitter' Challenge and a Twitter chat!

Three South African educators, Leigh Morris, Lindsay Wesner and Chaim Moch have come up with a great idea to get more South African teachers connected to Twitter. - the ‘12 days of Twitter’ challenge, and a regular Twitter chat.

What is the 12 days of Twitter challenge?
It takes the form of a Game Board Hyperdoc with 12 challenges, which shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes a day. There is one for people who are new to Twitter, which takes teachers through the entire process of getting on Twitter, learning about how it works, getting them to Tweet etc. and culminates in having them join our very first #ZAedu Twitter chat on 31 January at 20:00; And then there is a different “Level Up” Challenge Board for the existing Tweeps with more advanced challenges and ways to participate.

If you are not already on Twitter, the organisers would love you to join them and take part in the beginner challenge. Of course, if you are already a Twitter connoisseur, organisers would love it if you’d like to take part in the Twitter Ninja challenge but also to use the beginner challenge as a form of PD for your teachers and/or encourage them to participate in the challenge.

Take part in the #ZAedu Twitter chat
Leigh, Lindsay and Chaim have also planned a Twitter chat for South African teachers, the first #ZAedu Twitter chat will take place on 31 January.

So, how does it all work?
1. Sign up for the challenge using this form. You can sign up any time before the 19th of January which will be the first official day of the challenge.

2. You will then receive your own copy of the relevant 12 Days of Twitter Challenge Board and can work through the challenges on a daily basis. Each challenge comes with hyperlinked instructions / resources so you should be able to complete it on your own but we will also be running support.

3. The organisers also created a ZAedu Facebook group so people can post questions there etc.

And, of course, please pop 31 Jan at 20:00 in your diary and join in the first ever #ZAedu Twitter chat, and contribute.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Try using some of these digital assessment tools with your class this year

Submitted by Fiona Beal
There are different types of assessment methods that we use in our classes on a regular basis, depending on the assessment task at hand. Do you use any didital tools to carry out these assessments? In this post I'll share a few ideas of some useful tools. But first, let's review some types of assessment

Types of assessment
You are probably familiar with all of these:
1. Summative assessment: This type of assessment aims to estimate the learners’ success in meeting the learning criteria set out in a particular subject or module.
2. Formative assessment: These are the varied methods that teachers use to conduct evaluations and collect information about their learners’ understanding, learning needs and progress in a subject during the lesson.
3. Interim assessment: This is a way of evaluating a learner’s performance at periodic intervals, often at the end of a topic.
4. Performance assessment: This is a form of testing that requires learners to demonstrate the skills required by a task rather than simply answer questions about the task.
5. Diagnostic assessment: This is a way a teacher determines a learners’ current skill set, knowledge and capabilities so as to inform future lesson planning

Digital assessment tool ideas
Some of these forms of assessment can be more easily met by using digital tools. It all depends what devices are available for your learners to use.

1. Create rubrics for formative assessment
Rubrics as a less subjective way to assess tasks in formative assessment settings. You can create rubrics using free tools such as Quickrubric (
Rubistar (, and irubric ( ) Here is a video that demonstrates how to use Rubistar.

2. Use Google Classroom to gather assessments
If your learners can do their assessments using online digital tools, and if they have email addresses the use of Google Classroom is a great way to present differentiated tasks to a class and collect and grade their assignments for summative assessment tasks.   You don't  need to be a GSuite school  in order  to be able to do this. Googls Classroom is freely available to anyone with a Gmail account. Your learners would also need to be have a gmail account.  This video demonstrates how simple this is to collect assignments.

3. Quick Feedback sites
Feedback is said to be a vital part of assessment. John Hattie, Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, believes that feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement. Electronic quizzes are a great, fun way to assess formatively with instant feedback. Try using Kahoot ( ), Socrative ( ). Flipquiz for example. This video shows how to use Quizlet which is a free website which enables teachers and students to create digital flash cards. Quizlet can also automatically generate interactive games and even tests of the material you enter into it.

4. Audio feedback
Audio is a great, quick way to give feedback. S Word allows audio comments to be embedded within a document.  Educational Technology and Mobile Learning has a useful post outlining 6 steps to add voice comments to Google Docs. I haven't tried their suggestion, but one of the ways I  like to add voice comments is Google Docs is via a Chrome extension  called Talk and Comment.. This works really well. Watch this video that explains how to do this.

5. E-portfolios for performance assessment
Have you thought about letting your learners create e-portfolios? Some teachers use Google Sites ( ) for this, and each learner has their own Google site which they use as an electronic portfolio. Blogger can also be used as an e-portfolio site.

6. Diagnostic assessment using Google Forms
One can create all kinds of tests such  as spelling tests etc using Google Forms. You can also get Google forms to grade certain types of quizzes.  The following video shows how to do this.

This is just a brief introduction to  all the different ways you can assess digitally.  Didigtal assessment has so much potential,

Monday, 8 January 2018

Useful Microsoft in Education posts this week #136

The Internet is currently full of posts about using Microsoft products effectively in the classroom. Here are a The Internet is currently full of posts about using Microsoft products effectively in the classroom. Here are a number of them from this past week. The list is embedded below but can also be found at: this link: . The link to the back-dated posts is: 

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Seven ways to share links in a classroom or during a presentation or workshop

Submitted by Fiona Beal
How do you share links with others during class or in a workshop? I have used several methods and thought I would document and share some of them in a blog post.


1. Use Google Classroom

 I use Google Classroom with all my classes. Truth is, I love the application. Whenever I have a class at school the first thing everyone does is log into their Google Classroom account where everything I want to share with the class is waiting. If I have collected a list of links on a topic for them to investigate, the  list is right there in Google Classroom. My school is a GSuite school, but if you are not you can still use Google Classroom with your class as long as your learners have Gmail accounts that you can link to it.

2. Use the SharetoClassroom Chrome extension

If we are in the middle of a lesson and I want  to share a new link with my class that isn’t in their Google Classroom list of links, I use the SharetoClassroom  Chrome extension. I think this might  have been developed by Alice Keeler. If you install this extension  you can push a link to your students immediately in their Google Classroom. They don’t need to type out the URL. You have to be using the Chrome browser for this to work. SharetoClassroom  makes sharing announcements, assignments, and  any web page URL with learners very easy.

To see how this works click on the demonstration below made by Jenn Scheffer  of Burlington High School.

3. OneTab

A quick way to share a list of web resources with your learner or with others is to use the
Chrome extension called OneTab. This is one of my most used and FAVOURITE extension. You, as the teacher, could conduct a search on a topic opening a new tab on the Internet for

each result. (If you hold down the Control key in Windows or Command on a Mac when clicking on a link it will open the destination URL in a new tab.) When you have found your list of resources which are now on multiple tabs, click on the OneTab extension to save these into a single list. OneTab basically closes all of the tabs with just one click to form the list. Each tab can be reopened just as easily. You can save the list or share it as a web page via a QR code that it generates.

Watch Alice Keeler demonstrating how OneTab works.


4. URL shorteners 
with custom wording or QR codes
URL shorteners allow you to shorten your lengthy web address hyperlinks to something shorter and more manageable. If you use the Chrome browser  you can add these URL shorteners as extensions which makes the URL shortening eperience so much easier!  So, for example, you may be visiting a website that you ant to shorten and share with someone. All yopu do is click on your URL shorteener and it soes the job immediately. Your URL shortener will make it short enough for people to copy or to be able to add it to a document and enable it to look neat within the document. I have three URL shorteners that I like to use mainly because they are also Chrome extensions which means, as explained, you just have to click on them rather than opening them on their own websites to get the shortened URL. 


I like to use because it enables you to either use their number/letter combination or to create a custom link of your own wording which is far easier to share than a bunch of numbers. You’ll notice in the image that I have opted to use

The Google URL shortener is also a favourite of mine because it is a Chrome extension (easy to click on) and also because it creates a QR code which you can easily share with others.

Tinyurl cn be used on its website or as a Chrome extension. As a Chrome extension it simply shortens the link. As a website it gives the option of creating a custom URL using your own words.

5. Google Tone

Google Tone shares websites via sound! Google Tone turns on your computer's microphone (while the extension is on) and uses your computer's speakers to exchange URLs with nearby computers connected to the Internet. You can use Google Tone to send the URL for any web page to any computer within earshot that also has the Google Tone extension installed and turned ON. They’ll receive a Google Tone notification.

Watch 2minute Teacher Tech demonstrate this.

6. Open a  backchannel using TodaysMeet

oday'sMeet is designed to be a backchannel that you can create and others can link to, but this versatile tool can be used in many other different ways. 
To create 
To create a room, just go to, give your room a name (no spaces, full stops or certain other characters). Decide when your  room will close (i.e. how long you would like it to exist - the maximum being one month). Then click “Create your room.” and share the link. From then on  everyone can communicate and chat in the link. 

Watch Edtechteachers demonstrate how it is used.

7. Share your whole presentation via Google Drive 
An easy way to share all your links duing a presentation or workshop is to share your whole presentation via google Drive so that everyone can log into it. One would need to use one of the URL shorteners or the customised links, or even a QR code to share it.. 

There are other ways in which o share links but these are the main ones that I currently use. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Useful Google in Education posts this week #125

After looking through all the Google posts that were shared to various subscriptions recently, these are a selection that look useful for teachers (The link to previous posts can be found here