Poor ANA grade 9 results: can technology improve them?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

The results of the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for 2013 have been released this week by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.

The progress in most cases is encouraging; the different initiatives to improve matters seem to have had an impact.  Minister Motshekga said: “I am confident that performance in the education system is on an upward trend and all our interventions and programmes are beginning to produce the desired outcomes.”

One of the areas where progress was less than satisfactory is Grade 9 mathematics.  In 2012 the national average was 13%.  An improvement of 1% was made during the past year … but the fact remains that only 14% of Grade 9 learners are on standard in mathematics.

If anyone disputes this statistic: a special task team looked into the way the tests were conducted and confirmed that the assessment was fair, valid and reliable.  This means that the situation is really as bad as the ANA results indicate!

So what can we do about the matter?

Technology - a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Technology – a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Many initiatives and interventions will likely be launched to remedy the situation.  I believe, however, that there is one option that is underestimated: the use of technology.

Many superb software programs are available to assist learners with mathematics.  One such program is CAMI, a South African product, fully integrated with our CAPS curriculum.  CAMI can be used in schools with school laboratories, and is also available in the form of a home version for parents who want to sharpen the mathematics skills of their children at home.

The value of products such as CAMI is that it covers mathematics from Grade R to Grade 12.  Those learners who perform below par in a specific grade can be diagnosed with regards to gaps in their understanding and will then be directed to material to remedy the situation.  Through regular use of the programme, learners are helped to learn concepts and practise skills necessary to perform well in mathematics.  By using this program, schools and learners around the world have already dramatically improved their performance levels in mathematics.

Should we not investigate technology as an option to improve mathematic outcomes?

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Technology encourages learner involvement

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | education, technology | Comments Off

Recently I saw the following two quotations tweeted on Twitter:

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. (Oscar Wilde)

Tell me, I’ll forget; show me, I’ll remember; involve me, I’ll understand. (Chinese proverb)

From the re-tweets and re-re-tweets of these snippets of wisdom it seems as if the sentiments expressed in them find resonance with many who are serious about education.

Telling happens when a teacher teaches or a lecturer presents a lecture.  A good teacher will also show … using diagrams, real world models, doing experiments, even showing video clips to serve as memory aids.  Sadly, that is where teaching in the classroom often ends.

Involvement of learners is important … but how do you accomplish this?  More than teaching and showing is required.  Involvement means that the learners must jump in boots and all into the learning material and participate in the learning process.  The result is that learners will make worthwhile knowledge their own because they have been active partners in the learning process.

You may have guessed where this is going – yes, technology is a powerful tool for teachers to involve learners.  The following are just a few of the many ways in which technology can take the classroom beyond a mere lecture room:

As the name implies, an interactive whiteboard (IWB) makes it possible for the teacher to involve the learners in the learning process in many different ways.  The good news is that some data projectors now have interactive features, which obviates the need for an expensive IWB, yet allowing for interactive learning to take place.

Learners love their cell phones and innovative teachers are already using these devices to draw learners into the learning experience.  Tablets play a similar role (for those who can afford them).

Where learners have access to the internet, they can create their own knowledge by doing research.  No more spoon feeding … learners can be taught to find, evaluate and analyse information and then synthesize what they’ve gathered into knowledge which they make their own.

Mathematical skills are acquired through practise, practise and still more practise.  Drill-and-practice programs are available on technology devices and these can be used to help learners to hone and own mathematical skills.

The screens of cell phones, tablets or computers encourage reading and the keyboards encourage writing.  Active use of these devices develop reading and writing skills … much needed in our country where the education system has not succeeded in “teaching” and “showing” these skills.

Let’s not just marvel at the wisdom of Wilde and the Chinese … put it in practice by harnessing technology to make learners active and eager participants in the learning process.

What learners will learn, experience and understand through active involvement is much, much better than all our well-prepared and smoothly presented lessons.

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Is ICT useful to teach all subjects?

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 | education | 1 Comment

A learner using a computer to hone her mathematics skills by doing repetative exercises

Can ICT can be used as a teaching tool – and more importantly, as a learning tool – in all subjects?  Yes, it can!  It simply calls for a teacher who understands technology tools to think up ways in which ICT can enrich the classroom.

Here are a few of the ways in which technology can be used in your classroom:

Start a history lesson by using a data projector to display a picture of a historical person or a video clip of a historical event to stimulate discussion in the classroom.

Computers are useful in teaching mathematics – drill and practice exercises help develop skills through repetition.

When teaching geography, nothing beats having Google Earth on tap in the classroom.

Science experiments can be simulated repeatedly in a normal classroom environment through the application of ICT.

Blogging and the use of email are excellent ways to develop writing and communication skills of learners in any language.

In what subjects have you found technology to be useful?

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What is an interactive classroom?

Monday, December 19th, 2011 | education | 2 Comments

Boring, boring, boring!

It is the dream of every teacher to be in a classroom where learners respond and participate in the learning process.  Sadly, this is often just a dream.  Many teachers battle to grab the attention of learners, let alone getting them to interact during lessons.

An interactive classroom is one in which learners participate as equal partners in the learning process.  The teacher acts as a facilitator and guide, but the learners are enthusiastically playing their part in learning.  Apart from the fact that learner participation makes the teaching task more interesting for the teacher, research has shown that much more learning takes place in an interactive classroom than in a passive one.

What are the features of an interactive classroom?  It definitely is not a place where a teacher lectures and the children passively listen.  Learners do writing exercises, take part in class discussions and actively participate in solving problems.  An interactive classroom also requires that learners engage in higher-order thinking tasks, which include analysis of information, evaluation of the facts and a process of synthesis to build new knowledge.

Many teachers have acquired the skills to transform a dull classroom into an interactive one.  Different techniques exist to do this and where teachers apply these techniques the attitudes and achievements of learners are affected positively.

The key to a successful interactive classroom is in the hands of the teacher – it is not dependent on any fancy tools or equipment.  However, children are fascinated by technology.  They grow up in a world dominated by technology and they likely have cell phones or other mobile devices in their pockets.  The wise teacher makes use of technology to enhance the learning experience of their learners.  In this way technology enables an interactive classroom.

You can have learner interactivity in the classroom without technology … but if this goal is illusive, technology will help you to attain it.

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Do learners need to memorize facts in the digital age?

Friday, February 11th, 2011 | education | Comments Off

Rote learning – memorizing facts – is frowned upon by some in the education fraternity.  Others say it has an important place in the classroom.

How relevant is rote learning in the digital age when information is available at the press of a button?  Why do learners need to memorize multiplication tables when they have calculators?

Some argue that if we rely too much on memorization strategies only the short term memories of learners are exercises and they do not develop critical thinking skills (whatever that may mean).  Others argue that, in order to develop these critical thinking skills, learners need a basis of solid facts – learned by memorization – so that they have something on which they can practise those desirable critical thinking skills.

The memorization versus critical learning skill debate will possibly carry on for a long time into the future!

What does all of this mean for us?  When I am sick I want to feel that the doctor who examines me has critical thinking skills: looking at my symptoms and test results and then through sound reasoning being able to discover what is wrong with me … it would bother me if the good doctor has to check every symptom and test result on the internet to find information that can help with the interpretations of the facts.

What would you choose: a doctor who has critical thinking skills or one who knows the facts?

Perhaps Frank Sinatra hinted at the answer years ago:

Love and marriage, 
Love and marriage
Go together 
Like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other

Try, try, try to separate them
It’s an illusion
Try, try, try, and you will only come
To this conclusion

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How can digital tools be used to develop reading skills?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 | education, technology | 1 Comment

Teachers lament the fact that learners can’t read anymore.  Education authorities are in agony over the low literacy rate of learners.  These concerns are justifiable.  Many learners simply can’t read with understanding; they can’t write; their spelling is atrocious; their understanding of grammar rules non-existing.

Not only is their reading and writing poor – they can’t speak.  Have you tried to count how many times a teenager uses the world ‘like’ in one sentence?  They use it as a verb, a noun, an adjective, adverb, preposition and general filler. 

The number of learners who fail basic literacy tests is astounding.  But those same children are hammering away on computer keyboards and cell phone keypads at great speed.  Technology puts power in their hands, but not necessarily knowledge in their heads.  It’s the same as giving sledge hammers to a troupe of monkeys to crack nuts – one fears the damage they can do to themselves. 

You can use the magnetic pull of technology on learners to their advantage.  Think about a few possibilities:

Send an e-mail to your learners and ask for a response.  Encourage learners to communicate with each other via e-mail and teach them how to use proper language, spelling and grammar.

Write a blog posting and ask learners to respond by means of comments; in turn you can correct their mistakes through your comments.  In this way you’re using technology to help them acquire basic literacy skills.

Allow learners to browse the internet and ask them to report on what they’ve read.

Many educational software programs geared towards the development of reading skills include enjoyable activities – learners develop literacy skills while having fun.

A useful tool for developing reading with comprehension skills is talking stories.  Books are digitized and displayed on a computer screen or through a data projector.  Learners read the words, hear the words and engage with the material through interactions.

These are just a few examples of the many ways in which you can use available technology to solve one of your biggest problems – helping learners to improve their literacy skills.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can I cope with cell phones in my classroom?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 | communication, technology | 1 Comment

When the use of cell phones in the classroom becomes a problem – because its use is viewed as distracting to learners – some schools ban its use altogether.  You can imagine how learners resist this restriction.

Most learners in schools – even the poorest ones – have cell phones in their pockets or bags.  Efforts to curb the explosive use of these devices are bound to be countered with learner schemes to use them in an illicit way.

Isn’t there a better way to handle the situation?

How about using the fascination of learners with their cell phones to improve learning?  This can be done if innovative ways are found to harness the phones in the hands of learners as teaching and learning tools.  This approach has many apparent advantages:

Learners already own cell phones – you do not have to buy technology devices for them.

You don’t have to introduce technology into the classroom – it is already there.

Since the instruments are the property of learners, you don’t have to protect equipment against vandalism.

Children love their cell phones and are keen to show off what they can do with them. 

Pilot projects are under way to determine practical applications of mobile phones in the classroom.  A few simple uses are already evident:

By sending an interesting text message (SMS) in a target language to learners on a regular basis (even after school hours) their literacy is enhanced.  Imagine how you could build the vocabulary of your class.

Mobile ‘novels’ are already available where learners receive bite size instalments.

When learners use the camera function of cell phones, they can record images of science experiments, or other visual displays, for future revision.

Some vendors of educational software are developing programs suitable for classroom use.  With a cell phone a learner can see and hear, without disturbing the rest of the class.

The ubiquitous use of cell phones makes them ideal tools for teaching and learning.  Keep your eyes – and minds – open for developments in this area in the future.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Can learners learn how to handle information without a teacher’s assistance?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010 | internet, technology | 2 Comments

Just because children have the ability to use a mouse or know where to press the buttons on a computer does not mean that technology will benefit them. 

Let’s use the internet as an example.  Learners quickly discover how to surf the net – oh yes, they do!  But how beneficial is such surfing to them – and how safe is it? 

The situation reminds us of ducklings.  It is often said that learners take to technology like ducks take to water.  When ducklings are hatched they follow their mother to the nearest river or pond.  They know instinctively that they must jump into the water and when they land in the water they know what to do – their mother does not have to teach them how to swim.  But she does teach them how to forage for food and she protects them when she senses danger. 

An interesting thing happens when duck eggs are hatched by a chicken hen.  When the ducklings emerge from the eggs the hen will cluck-cluck and the ducklings will respond and follow her.  Until they sense water!  Then nature takes over – they make a bee-line for the water, dive into it and swim.  It seems as if they are programmed to do so. 

Cool!  Or is it?  Without a mother duck, how purposeful is their swimming?  With the hen standing on the shore, she can’t teach them how to find food – she knows how to forage for food on land, but has no clue how to do so in water.  The mother duck would be able to alert them to dangers – such as crocodiles or water snakes – and lead them to safety.  A mother hen standing on shore has no experience in this matter. 

The application of this analogy should be clear.  Modern learners may easily find their way around on the internet but without the guidance of a skilled teacher how beneficial will their browsing be?  They won’t know how to search purposefully for information and they’ll be exposed to the dangers of the internet – without guidance or protection.

As teachers you can’t afford to stand on the periphery of technology – you must jump into the information pool and show them the safe way to find relevant information.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Why should I concern myself with e-learning?

Friday, December 24th, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

Ask a dozen people for their understanding of e-learning and you are bound to receive a dozen different answers.  All agree that it has something to do with learning by means of technology – the e represents the electronic aspect – but there is no consensus about what is included or excluded. 

Some insist that e-learning can only happen when learners have access to the internet. A more common understanding is that e-learning is a catch-all term, covering a wide range of electronic instructional material that can be installed on a single computer or a local area network, or delivered on a CD or DVD, or accessed via the internet. This may include computer based training where learning material is presented solely on the computer, but other occasions where teachers use technology for teaching also qualify as e-learning.  This means that e-learning can take place in the presence or absence of a teacher.

Why should you concern yourself with e-learning?

Before you think about e-learning for your learners, you must think about it as something for yourself.  Many learning opportunities are open to you if you accept e-learning – for example, if you were to enroll for a post graduate distance learning course today you can be sure that it will contain an e-learning component.  For the sake of your own life-long learning you must come to grips with the use of electronic tools.

E-learning is also a valuable mode of instruction for your learners.  Consider the following:

Learners need to be equipped with computer skills.  E-learning acts as a double-edged sword: while learners learn the subject matter – such a science, mathematics and languages – they pick up computer skills.

Learning styles of learners are changing.  They use technology for communication and entertainment – it is not unrealistic to believe that they will use it for learning as well.

You may not have the capacity to teach them.  Owing to big class sizes, curriculum changes and an occasional demand that you teach a subject with which you are not familiar, your may feel a need to provide your learners with additional learning opportunities – e-learning can fill this gap.

Around the globe e-learning is becoming such an important learning method, that we will soon be dropping the e.  After all, the emphasis is on learning – the medium is of less importance.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Can technology improve learning in the classroom?

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 | Learners, technology | 1 Comment

It doesn’t matter how many technology devices you bring into the classroom – if they don’t have a positive impact on learning the investment is wasted.  How can you ensure that technology will improve learning among your learners?

Better teaching leads to better learning.  When technology improves the teaching abilities of a teacher it must have a beneficial impact on learning in the classroom.  You make a personal contribution towards improved learning when you:

  • optimize the use of technology for the preparation of your lessons
  • optimize the use of technology for innovative presentation of your lessons.

What about a more direct benefit to learners when they engage with technology?  Is it possible?  Yes, if the technology is used to transform the classroom into one where learners are encouraged to have greater involvement in the learning process.

The classroom of today was designed a few centuries ago – little has changed since.  Learners sit at desks, mostly facing a blackboard, while a teacher chalks and talks.  This might have been good enough until a few decades ago, but it no longer provides an environment conducive to learning for today’s learners – they are bored to death in a classroom devoid of technology!

You can use the fascination of children with technology to your advantage.  But don’t be deluded – technology itself will not bring about improved learning.  It can only act as a catalyst.  By allowing learners to see and touch and do you grab their interest.

Technology allows the children in your class to be involved in the learning process.  They can use electronic tools to practice skills, find information and then learn to present their new knowledge in innovative ways.  But remember: it is not the technology that brings about improved learning – it is what happens as a result of what they do with the technology that has an impact on improved learning.

When learners are involved in an activity they enjoy, they are more inclined to be attentive.  This leads to better class disciplineAn attentive and disciplined class, in turn, leads to improved learning.  No question about it – technology in the hands of a skilled teacher can have a positive influence on learners.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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