YouthSpark Professional Development for KZN Focus Schools

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has provided 165 focus schools with technology devices for learners. Having seen how successful YouthSpark training can be to introduce teachers to basic computer science resources that can use with learners, SchoolNet SA was asked to run workshops with champion teachers selected from eighty of these schools. It was hoped that having access to some free resources aimed at youth, a portal of online training resources aimed at teachers, as well as the skills and confidence to run a range of activities using digital tools, that teachers and learners will make better use of the resources they have been given.

Four sessions were conducted at the Bergville Education Centre between 27 August and 6 September 2018, with SchoolNet SA facilitators Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo each working with a group of approximately 20 teachers for two days per group. Across two busy weeks of training, a total of 155 teachers were trained. In this blogpost we describe the first groups’ training sessions, however, all teachers in this project experienced a similar program and pictures come from the various workshops that were held.

The first day of training got off to a slow start as a result of logistical challenges, however the vibrant and enthusiastic group, comprising teachers of all ages, were eager to learn new knowledge and skills. Both groups converged into one room for welcomes and introductions where Mr Reggie Masondo (Deputy director for the MST and ICT Directorate of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education) introduced the facilitators who in turn gave an overview of the Hour of Code.

After splitting into the two computer labs the teachers jumped straight into coding using the Minecraft Adventure Hour of Code tutorial. Whilst the facilitators held the trainees hands for the first three puzzle levels, after that they were on their own and encouraged to seek help from one another to build self-reliance. A number of teachers completed all 14 puzzles and they were thrilled to receive a Minecraft certificate and an Hour of Code pen or a SchoolNet branded ruler in recognition of their achievement.

The teachers were encouraged to join the Microsoft Educator Community (MEC) to have access to a range of online professional development courses that they can do at no cost, when and where it suits them. Unfortunately the slow internet connection, inactive teacher e-mail accounts and technical challenges with the laptops slowed this process down, but eventually all teachers were registered. The facilitators talked delegates through the contents of the MEC website focusing on the courses and resources, the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program, lesson plans, connecting with other educators and using the filter when searching for courses. Having played the Minecraft adventure game, trainees completed the Hour of Code facilitation course so that they could see how to run this activity for their learners and could access the facilitator materials.

The next activity focused on Computational Thinking and made use of the Computer Olympiad talent search website as a great resource for activities that build thinking skills. Whilst delegates questioned whether they would be able to use the online quizzes at schools without internet access, they were relieved to learn that one could also take the tests offline and that some past papers are available to use as paper-based tests or worksheets. Teachers concurred that they could start with the past papers, and that once their learners had a bit more practice, they could participate in the national competition. After successfully completing the MEC course on Computational Thinking teachers took great delight in adding some badges and certificates to their online portfolios.

On the second day of training the teachers were introduced to the online Microbit which they could code to perform a range of tasks based on different inputs. Whilst this form of coding was different to the Hour of Code puzzles, the teachers still enjoyed it and were encouraged to explore more coding projects on the site. Teachers were then taught about using online documents to collaborate and share information and practiced working on one document to share reflections of the courses done thus far. Teachers agreed that these skills would be useful when it came to making better use of the shared laptops that their schools have been given.

The final training session provided teachers with an opportunity to complete MEC courses of their choice. Many chose to do some of the Digital Skills for Teachers courses, and they shared their completed artifacts with the group. It was encouraging to see teachers racing to earn additional badges and certificates, however, the facilitators stressed that the best way of displaying their learning was to cascade the skills and knowledge that they had learnt to colleagues back at their schools and to run the YouthSpark activities with learners or out-of-school youth in their communities. The workshops ended on a high note with teachers vowing to use what they had learnt to improve learner performance and to generate an interest and excitement for STEM subjects. 

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