A revision tool for matric learners

Monday, October 29th, 2012 | software | Comments Off

Learners at school spend 12 years building up to that big moment – Matric! And then the exams are upon them and they are overwhelmed. They have so much revision to do, where do they start?  EasyPass is a handy tool for teachers and learners to ease the pain.


The EasyPass Online Assessment Centre provides question banks for 16 of the most important matric subjects. The questions are categorized by topic within a subject.  Tests are generated on the fly, with a random set of questions submitted for each learner to complete. Since the Centre is internet-based, learners can access them anywhere, anytime, and from any internet-enabled device.

The EasyPass mission is simple: to help Matriculants find out what they do and don’t know. And while they are finding out, they are learning because they will get feedback on each question.  Once they know where they are weak, they can go back to their textbooks or ask their teacher for help. The learner can also go back to the assessments to measure their knowledge gain after revisiting the material, because they are allowed to complete each test up to five times.

The target market is both individual learners as well as schools. The questions are developed by subject-matter experts, usually teachers who have retired or are pursuing other interests.

EasyPass is keen to work with underperforming schools to help them improve their matric marks, and in turn improve the learner’s chance of future success.

For more information, go to the EasyPass website, or email Moira de Roche at

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A free resource for teachers

Monday, March 12th, 2012 | software | 1 Comment

Over the past years I have used MakeBeliefsComix many times to create cartoons for this blog.  The owner of the software, Bill Zimmerman, has kindly allowed me to use his software at no cost, with the simple request that I encourage others to use the product.

A few examples of cartoons that I’ve created are:

Mobile phones for teaching?

Do you fear change?

Avoid jargon …

Cyber-bullies are cowards.

New literacies required for the twenty-first century.

A new version of the software, with many exciting addtions, was launched yesterday.  Bill writes as follows:

Dear Reader

In its goal to provide more literacy resources for educators, has significantly expanded its offering of writing prompt printables, organizing them by subject categories to help students write and express themselves.

The free online comic strip generator now features more than 250 printables in 50 subject categories, ranging from Bullying and Peer Pressure, to Elections and Political, to Environment and Ecology, to Writing Prompts. These are found at:

In addition, MakeBeliefsComix has introduced new comic characters with physical disabilities to reflect the diversity of users, including those with special needs. Among the 128 characters that students can now select in creating their comic strips are a boy and girl in wheelchairs, a soldier who lost an arm in war and wears a prosthesis, a blind person with a seeing-eye dog, and an older woman who uses a walker. Each character shows a variety of emotions – happy, sad, angry, thoughtful. Educational therapists increasingly use the online comic site for students with autism spectrum disorders to help them understand social concepts and to communicate. There is a Special Needs section to help educators and parents.

The 250 graphic writing prompts encourage writing and thinking in a quick and imaginative way and foster classroom discussion . A student’s efforts to complete a printable can then become the first step in writing longer essays, poems or stories on the same subject. The printables also can be used with students enrolled in literacy and English-As-Second Language programs, and provide an educational resource for teaching language arts. They are taken from the many interactive books of the site’s creator, Bill Zimmerman, who for many years edited the nationally syndicated Newsday Student Briefing Page, which was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

More than 200,000 educators and students from more than 180 countries visit each month to build their own comic strips and practice language, writing and reading skills. The site was selected by Google as UNESCO as among the world’s most innovative sites to encourage literacy and writing. And the American Library Association chose it as a Great Web Site for Kids.

We hope that you will share with your colleagues, students, friends or readers of your publications and favorite listserv groups. 
As always, we welcome your suggestions and ideas to improve our site.


Bill Zimmerman

I am proud to be associated with MakeBeliefsComix and will continue to use this tool to get e-learning messages across to the readers of this blog.  Have a look at the product … you are sure to find innovative ways in which you can use it for the advancement of education.

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Educational software products … less is more

Monday, March 14th, 2011 | software | 3 Comments

The architect and furniture designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was one of the main proponents of minimalism in art and other design forms. Minimalism is the notion that simplicity and clarity lead to good design. Van der Rohe became famous for using the expression less is more.

A typical van der Rohe design: The "Four Seasons Bar Stool"

The design of modern architecture, cars, furniture and other utility items are still influenced by this principle: simple, clean lines are preferred to frills.

The less is more principle could also be applied in our choice of software for schools. In many schools impressive software packages are installed but seldom – or never – used. The reason for this is that these tools are too complicated and too difficult for the average educator to understand. On the other hand, far less sophisticated software packages are embraced by teachers starting out on the ICT road. Why? Clearly because they can more readily identify with simple, practical tools.

A similar observation has been made regarding the number of software tools given to a school at the outset. In a well-meaning effort to cover all the bases, teachers may be swamped by a bewildering array of products. The result? There are too many different tools to learn; the road of least resistance for some teachers is to give up.

With the wisdom of hindsight, the best policy is to start with only one or two uncomplicated software products when they are introduced to ICT. As individual teachers mature in their use of technology, more complex programs can be added, according to their requirements. In fact, when teachers have out-grown the introductory products, most of them start to search for more appropriate ones themselves.

The successful use of technology in a school can not be measured in terms of the number and elegance of software products in their possession; success is to be measured by the degree to which these products are used to improve teaching and learning.

Before stocking up on software products, consider the wisdom of less is more.


What is the real value of software that is bundled with an interactive whiteboard?

Saturday, January 9th, 2010 | IWBs, software | 4 Comments

Interactive whiteboards are sometimes offered to you as a package: with the board comes a selection of software products.

How valuable is such a bundle of software?  It all depends on what is in the bundle.

Some manufacturers of interactive whiteboards provide software specifically developed for their product.  Such material is generally of great value:

Look out for an authoring tool – a software package that allows you to develop your own lessons.  Remember, the day will come when won’t be satisfied using packaged software any longer since you’ll feel competent to develop your own material.  Then an authoring tool working in conjunction with your interactive whiteboard is what you need.

Other items specifically developed for your board may also be useful, particularly while you are learning to use the new tool.  A further advantage of such resources is that you can adjust them (if you have the authoring tool), or you can use them as models to create new material.

At times the bundle of software consists of a disparate collection of software items, procured and owned by the interactive whiteboard manufacturer or distributor.  In an attempt to give the offering a wide appeal, a huge variety of items are included.  This may look impressive, but means that you will find only a few items meeting your particular needs.

A big bundle is not necessarily a bargain.  Imagine you’re looking for new shoes.  A big sign in a shop tells you that if you buy a pair of shoes (on the expensive rack) you will get twenty pairs of socks for free.  “What a bargain,” you think.  Until you look at the socks.  The colour is all wrong!  What will you do with twenty pairs of purple and orange polka dot socks?

The same principle applies to the bundle of software that comes with your interactive whiteboard.  The “lots of resources” and “free” may be appealing, but how helpful will it be to you?

A bundle of software may be useful to you – but first check the contents of the bundle!

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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Free resources for exam preparation

Monday, October 26th, 2009 | software | 2 Comments

Matric learners in South Africa are busy with last minute preparations for their examinations.  Sample exam papers with typical questions are available to them on the internet at no cost.


How to choose educational software

Monday, October 26th, 2009 | software | Comments Off

After posting Does a software package add volume or value? on this blog, I planned a follow-up item answering the question, “How to choose educational software”.  Unfortunately I did not get down to doing it.

But I just came across a commentary published in The Teacher’s Monthly  answering the same question – the article merits reading since it provides sound criteria to help schools decide if a specific educational software product is right for them.


Survey – volume or value?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 | software | 2 Comments

A recent posting on this blog asked the question: Does a sofware package add volume or value?

The supplier of the software product EvaluNet decided to do introspection about its product offering and launched a survey to find out how teachers, principals and governing body members feel about the software in their schools.  The jury is still out on the question: Does a software package add volume or value?

You are encouraged to participate in this survey by clicking here.  The results will be made available to me and I will offer a critical review on them.

Please do the survey – it only takes a few minutes; and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

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Does a software package add volume or value?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 | software | 8 Comments

Many excellent software packages in support of education are available commercially.  Some of these products are content-rich, very useful to teachers who lack resources.  Other products are content-free, used by innovative teachers to create exciting learning experiences for their learners.

A vast array of educational software products exist.  Each one of these products has a specific focus and could be a useful tool for teachers when used in the correct context.  It is no wonder that teachers become excited about some products when attending software demonstrations at trade shows or vendor presentations.

The principal has the difficult task to determine if the school should invest in a particular product.  There are so many of them.  Which one must you choose?  Should you go on the recommendation of an enthusiastic teacher?  You may have a persistent vendor knocking on your door.  Perhaps you already have many unused software products and may wonder if it is worth your while to buy yet another one.

You need to ask yourself, and your teaching staff, only one question:

Will this product add volume or value?

There is no merit in having a great volume of products if they are not used.  The only justification for purchasing the product would be if it has the promise of adding value.

Answer the following questions to help you determine if a particular product will add volume or value:

Does this product fill an educational need?  Can you name the need?

How do we intend using the product?

How many teachers are going to use it?

Do the teachers posses the necessary competencies to use the product?

How much training is required, and how will the teachers be trained?  Do they have time to be trained?  Are they willing to be trained?

Is it a product I am buying, or a service?

The last point is very important.  Software vendors can be valuable partners of the school.  You will be able to identify good potential partners by the training and support service offered to you as part of the deal.

When confronted with the decision to buy a software product, pause and ask:

Will it add volume or value?

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